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Bengals climb into PFF’s top 10 defenses

Jessie Bates III has been the catalyst to their defensive turnaround from 2019.

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Jacksonville Jaguars v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Injuries have impaired the Cincinnati Bengals’ depth on defense, especially when compared to the losses they’ve incurred on offense. Yet, five weeks into the season, the defense is the unit garnering praise.

Pro Football Focus ranked all 32 defenses after five weeks of action and had Cincinnati rounding out their top 10.


The Bengals rounding out the top 10 is quite the surprise, given how bad they were last year and the fact that Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, the two free agents they brought in to help out the secondary, have battled injuries. Safety Jessie Bates III has without question been the best player at the position to start out the year, as he has earned a 90.2 coverage grade, nearly 14 grading points higher than the next best safety. He has broken up a whopping seven passes, leading the position by three.

How the Bengals have performed in coverage is what has them out-playing their expectation. The Bengals have PFF’s second-highest team coverage grade despite having the lowest pass-rushing grade. That’s an insane disparity, but also one that shows that a strong secondary does tend to matter more than a strong defensive line. And like the article mentions, this was achieved without Alexander for two weeks and without Waynes at all.

Bates is obviously a favored player in the eyes of PFF, and his overall defensive grade of 89.0 dwarfs any other player on the Bengals’ battered-but-competent defense.

PFF is just one entity, though. What’s promising is that other metrics indicate that they’re not too far off base. Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric has the unit at 14th overall and ninth against the pass. In terms of expected points added per play, the Bengals rank 13th in overall defense and 14th against the pass.

While there’s plenty of improvement to be had, getting aforementioned names back into the fold can keep the unit competitive with any it comes to face.