Since the 2013 season, Carlos Dunlap has played 114 games for the Cincinnati Bengals. For 113 of them, he was a starter. He put together a streak of 102 consecutive starts in that timeframe as well, but that streak appears to be ending.
Dunlap told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he will not start on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. He’s essentially switching roles with Carl Lawson and will become a pass-rushing specialist on third down.
That’s just one bit of the news. The other is that Dunlap apparently wasn’t told ahead of time by the coaches before seeing his demotion on the depth chart.
Carlos dunlap says he isnt starting this week for #Bengals and will be third down specialist and doesn’t sound happy about it— Richard Skinner (@Local12Skinny) October 8, 2020
Carlos Dunlap says he's being pushed down the depth chart this week and seems the focus for him is to come in as a third-down pass rusher. Said he was surprised to see it posted. Team didn't talk to him about it. #Bengals— Laurel Pfahler (@LaurelPfahler) October 8, 2020
Per Tyler Dragon of Cincinnati.com, Dunlap’s name was replaced by Lawson’s on the official depth chart but is still considered a starter in certain packages.
According to a source, Carlos Dunlap is listed as a starter in some defensive packages but not others. His name didn’t appear originally on the team’s whiteboard at left defensive end. The team had Carl Lawson’s name as starter. #Bengals— Tyler Dragon (@TheTylerDragon) October 8, 2020
The start of 2020 has not been great for Dunlap. He’s totaled just nine pressures on 128 pass-rushing snaps and has yet to record a sack. Per Pro Football Focus, Dunlap is the Bengals’ lowest-graded edge rusher with a subpar 55.4 and also poses the lowest run defense grade of the bunch with a 57.8.
Benching Dunlap only makes sense if there’s a better option, and considering Lawson is playing the best of Cincinnati’s four edge rushers, promoting him over Dunlap is logical. Lawson has been the Bengals’ most consistent pass-rusher on a defensive line that’s been without Geno Atkins. He’s also been a better run defender, which is why Dunlap speculated he was benched.
Dunlap: "Evidentally I didn't make enough tackles in the run game."— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) October 8, 2020
The decision is justified; the issue is how it was executed. If head coach Zac Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo didn’t communicate the decision with Dunlap before he found out on his own, then Taylor and/or Anarumo messed up big time. That’s not how you treat an 11-year veteran who will probably go down as the franchise’s best edge rusher of all-time.
Hopefully, Dunlap and the coaching staff can remedy this internal dispute and move on. Dunlap playing less may have a positive impact on his production as well.
If not, it’s looking more likely that Dunlap will be out the door after this season.