It’s not hard to see that this Cincinnati Bengals’ defense is different.
The unit ranked among the worst in the league over the past two seasons and had fans and analysts alike calling for Lou Anarumo’s job.
They couldn’t stop the run or rush the passer up front, and don’t get me started on the corner play.
Defensive additions on the field and on the sidelines are finally playing dividends this year. Suddenly the defense has become a strength. Let’s look at their fantastic performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
We’ll start with the pass rush.
The Bengals have been all over opposing quarterbacks this season and had four sacks against Ben Roethlisberger this week.
In this clip, the pocket collapses around him.
Getting pressure on the quarterback has helped to mitigate the impact of injuries at the cornerback position. A luxury they did not have last year.
They’ve also been much better against the run.
The running back tried to cut back on this play, but all that he found on the backside were unblocked Bengals’ defenders. Jessie Bates and Mike Hilton did an excellent job of getting into their run fits once they recognized the run.
This is excellent team defense.
Of course there has been strong individual play on defense as well. At times, Larry Ogunjobi simply dominates his opponent. He made light work of the blocker here, getting into the backfield for the tackle.
Ogunjobi destroys the blocking scheme here, penetrating deep into the backfield to make the play. He has been an incredible addition so far,
Logan Wilson is going to be one of the best LBs in the league pic.twitter.com/ckzQMT1xyY— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 27, 2021
Speaking of big additions, Logan Wilson has taken a huge step forward in Year 2.
The linebacker position was young and unproven heading into the season, but Wilson has been a standout so far. He had two interceptions this weekend and has had three in the last two weeks.
This one you can’t even blame on the quarterback. It was just a ridiculously athletic play by Wilson. He looks like he could be a special player.
The Steelers were able to move the ball in the second half, but for the most part, the defense was able to prevent big plays and force them to drive the field. Plays like this may not make a highlight reel, but they are key to avoiding big plays.
In zone defense, you must prioritize the deeper routes. Naturally, that means receivers will come open underneath. That’s fine as long as the defenders rally to the ball and make the tackle.
One defender trying to make a tackle in the open field is tough. The ball-carrier may be able to juke him. That’s why it is important to get multiple players to the ball using force-and-funnel principles.
In this clip, the ball is caught in front of Akeem Davis-Gaither. This makes him the point of the funnel. He will run right at the ball carrier’s nose.
Wilson is just inside him and Hilton is just to his outside. This makes them the hip players. As the name implies, they aim to the ball carrier’s near hip, assuming that he will cut in their direction.
As you can see on this play, when these three players do their job, there is nowhere for the ball-carrier to go. Wilson will not let the ball-carrier inside and Hilton will not let him outside, which corrals him right to Davis-Gaither.
This is a key principle of playing zone defense and is of the utmost importance when protecting a lead. The offense may eventually get points, but make the defense must make them pay in ticks off the clock.
Germaine Pratt and Vonn Bell both stood out for ripping at the ball and trying to force a turnover, but this is my favorite example.
The play has long been blown dead, but Davis-Gaither is still ripping at the ball. That’s an attitude play. That’s a demeanor play. That’s going for the ball every single time. I love this play.
This is the difference in the defense this year. Clearly, they placed an emphasis on creating turnovers, but it’s not just something that a coach said in a meeting. This defense internalized it. They are living it out there on the field.
This defense has been exciting to watch so far. They are a physical unit that has bought in fully to what they are doing and swarms relentlessly to the football.