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Bengals Weekly Lineman: Goal line stand stops the bleeding

Sunday’s game was on the verge of going out of control. Cincinnati’s defensive line made a stand to keep it close.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Before we get started, let’s provide an update.

The Weekly Lineman’s this year will be a bit more condensed for a couple reasons. When I first had the idea of doing this six years ago, the original concept involved highlighting key plays in the trenches and provide context as to what’s happening. This was to make the article more niche compared to the wonderful weekly film reviews we have that overview the game on a more general basis.

As the years have gone by, this article became more focused on whatever was topical with the offensive or defensive line, and less about impactful happenings from the game. I didn’t like the direction it was going, but hey, I still have the steering wheel.

By focusing on a few meaningful plays per week, the quality of the breakdowns will increase and become more consumable to you all. And that’s the name of the game.

Ultimately, the content itself is the same, but the focus has re-shifted back to where it belongs. It almost warranted a name change! Too bad nothing I thought of sounded as good.

Now, onto the madness that Sunday was.

I posted a video a few weeks back explaining why the Cincinnati Bengals were primed to meet expectations this season. The reasoning involved how the offense should improve its overall consistency from last year, countering out strength of schedule and regression concerns. Week 1 overreactions aside, I standby the case I made and believe over the course of a 17-game slate, it will prove to be true.

One of the responses I received was asking why I never mentioned the defense in my reasoning. There’s a couple levels to this.

Year-to-year performance for any team’s defense in today’s NFL is fascinating to gauge. It’s tough for most top defenses to maintain elite play every season. Just three of 2020’s top-10 units in terms of EPA/play allowed (in non-garbage time situations) stayed in the top 10 for 2021. Recent history have provided us with exceptions, but logically, as offenses continue to dictate where defensive evolution heads, defenses will continue to play from behind. It’s difficult to maintain top-level performance year-to-year.

Cincinnati was too inconsistent defensively to crack last year’s top 10, but the unit’s full potential was on display in the postseason. A trip to the Super Bowl wouldn’t have been possible without them firing on all cylinders. Can that four-game sample size translate to an entire season? Highly doubtful—but it doesn’t have to.

That was the whole point. If the offense takes a step forward, that impact would outweigh the defense doing the same. Realistically speaking, so long as the defense isn’t a liability out of the bloom, the Bengals will remain in the AFC conversation with a reliable offense.

But after one game, the Bengals’ defense looks a lot like the playoff version.

There’s a dialogue involving the offensive line and its mixed reviews after a misleading seven-sack outing. There couldn’t be more of a consensus with the defensive line. It was rocking the Pittsburgh Steelers for all five quarters.

The days of the Steelers’ run game plowing the Bengals’ front seven seem like ancient history now. Running back Najee Harris and his line had trouble all afternoon against one of the more unheralded units in the entire league.

It was their persistent effort that kept this game close while the offense was tripping over its shoelaces. Take this series in the first quarter. The Bengals have already forced two Steelers punts, but they’re down 7-3 and Joe Burrow was just strip-sacked on his own 34-yard line. A Steelers touchdown makes this a 14-3 game before the second period even begins, and they have less than half the field to get there. Hell, they almost do so on the first play.

Click the video to see how the defensive line keeps it a one-score game.