Last season, the Bengals had the worst defense in the league. They ranked last in the NFL in both points against and total yards. This led head coach Marvin Lewis to fire first-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin midseason and take over the defense himself. Despite their immense struggles, the front office didn’t make any major changes with their defensive personnel.
In free agency, they picked up former Giants defenders in Kerry Wynn and B.W. Webb, who played under defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo last year. Weeks later, they and added Germaine Pratt and Renell Wren in the third round and fourth round of the NFL Draft.
That’s about it.
While the players in question are talented, the Bengals needed to do a lot more to make up for how bad the unit was a year ago and the neglect they have shown over the years by not upgrading their talent on that side of the ball.
Fast forward to this season and it’s more of the same story. The Bengals’ defense is no better than they were a year ago. They once again lead the league in yards allowed and have major personnel issues, not the least of which is at linebacker.
There are some coaching issues as well. Schematic flaws have come up and cost the team, and that’s led to the regression of certain players like Jessie Bates III and William Jackson. You could make an argument that Andrew Billings and Sam Hubbard are the only two defensive players who are performing better individually in 2019 than they did in 2018.
But are the Bengals losing games because of their defense?
In fact, their defense is the only reason they have been in most of their games.
You can say a lot of bad things about this Bengals defense and most of them are true, but they compete. This is a positive sign for both the players and the defensive coaches.
This weekend’s game against the Jaguars is a great example. The Bengals gave up 216 rushing yards and an additional 255 through the air. In the process of giving up 471 total yards, they allowed the Jaguars to gain at least 20 yards on eight separate plays.
They were inconsistent outside the red zone, but phenomenal inside the 20-yard line (something the Bengals offense can’t claim to be this season). They held the Jaguars to three field goals before eventually giving up a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
This defense is bad, but they know how to fight. You could win some games with this defense, but the offense not only fails to score themselves, they also put the defense in a bad position.
Again, look at Sunday’s game. The Bengals had one first down on their first four drives combined. They were constantly putting the defense back on the field. They lost time of possession 21:43 to 38:17.
This is not unique for the Bengals this season. Their offense has struggled to put together drives all season. Three-and-outs are bad for an offense, but the cumulative effect that multiple three-and-outs have on a defense is even worse.
So the Bengals defense eventually broke down and gave up a touchdown. How did the Bengals offense respond?
By throwing an interception.
The defense was able to get a stop and force the Jaguars to punt, but a few plays later Andy Dalton threw a pick-six and allowed the Jaguars to extend their lead.
Looking at the big picture this defense still needs a major overhaul. But the unit is capable of stepping up in certain moments and has the fight to put together some wins if paired with an offense that can move the ball and score in the red zone. It is a major concern that a head coach who was hired to bring an innovative offense to Cincinnati, has not been able to address this issue in the first seven weeks of the season.