Ja’Marr Chase’s record-breaking rookie year.
Joe Burrow’s return and leadership in crucial moments.
The outstanding play of Logan Wilson and the other linebackers.
There have been a lot of great story lines so far this season. Perhaps that is why D.J. Reader isn’t getting as much love as he deserves.
So far, Reader has 19 tackles (five solo), one sack, and two stuffs. However, as is the case with interior defensive linemen, stats don’t tell the whole story.
That is where the eye test and subjective grades come into play. Yes, Pro Football Focus’ method can be called into question at times. But it is always worth considering their grades for players that don’t fill out the stat sheets. And Reader is currently the sixth highest graded defensive linemen by PFF.
Highest PFF graded DL through Week 5:— Mike Kennedy (@MikeKennedyNFL) October 13, 2021
1) Cameron Heyward, 91.9
2) Aaron Donald, 91.2
3) Jonathan Allen, 90.7
4) Calais Campbell, 89.4
5) Al Woods, 86.1
6) DJ Reader, 82.0
7) JJ Watt, 80.9
8) Javon Hargrave, 79.7
9) Christian Wilkins, 79.1
10) Isaiah Buggs, 78.9 pic.twitter.com/g8fnvBJwsD
He’s also the second-highest graded player on Cincinnati’s roster after the amazing Mr. Burrow himself.
Highest-graded #Bengals through five games (min. 125 snaps)— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) October 12, 2021
1️⃣ Joe Burrow, QB- 85.4
2️⃣ D.J. Reader, DI- 82.0
3️⃣ Joe Mixon, RB- 80.6
4️⃣ Ja’Marr Chase, WR- 79.9
5️⃣ Tyler Boyd, WR- 75.7 pic.twitter.com/po5DKCKuHl
But perhaps more importantly than all of that, Reader was the beginning of the change in Cincinnati. He was the one free agent signing that made fans jump out of our seats. “Really?! We got a guy that other teams wanted??” So what Reader deserves the most credit for is giving the defense hope that, indeed, the culture can be changed.
It is not a coincidence that, in just Reader’s second season, the entire defense is playing with more bite. Yes, defensive coordinator should be given a lot of credit. And Trey Hendrickson has been fantastic. But Reader is the man in the middle, the guy who helped the team transition from the loss of Geno Atkins by offering a consistent push in the middle of the line.
It is Reader who takes on double teams allowing his athletic, young linebackers to make plays:
DJ Reader eating a double and making sure the C can't climb to the second level. Let's Germaine Pratt play free so he can make the stop. pic.twitter.com/ogBVjeKAFm— Mike (Sans) (@bengals_sans) October 13, 2021
It is Reader clogging the middle, forcing teams to think twice about running against the Bengals:
DJ Reader two gapping the center. He has made these plays look routine this year. pic.twitter.com/Iv8Fq0KBx3— Mike (Sans) (@bengals_sans) October 13, 2021
And the nearly-350 pound lineman does his part in putting pressure on opposing QBs as well:
D.J. Reader with a two hand stab and snatch to get the sack! pic.twitter.com/vJLM7fNdOo— Mike (Sans) (@bengals_sans) September 21, 2021
Thanks to Reader’s play, the defense is allowing the eleventh fewest yards per game. But they’ve actually been better than that; due to struggles by the offense, the defense has been on the field a great deal. That is part of the reason they are ranked seventh overall in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. They are also seventh against the run and twelfth against the pass according to this advanced metric, which measures the success of each play based on the specific situation.
While the team stands at 3-2, there is no telling how far the Bengals can go with Reader and a defense that does not back down from the competition. We talk about why Cincinnati should take care of the Detroit Lions on the road in our Week Six preview with former Lion Jerry Ball.
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