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Bengals linebackers among NFL’s best

Wilson, Pratt anchor top-5 unit

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals
Logan Wilson (55) and Germaine Prattt (57)
Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

If it is indeed true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the sky may just be the limit for the 2023 version of the Cincinnati Bengals defense.

Recently, Pro Football Focus ranked Bengals’ defensive tackles DJ Reader (9) and B.J. Hill (30) among the top interior defenders in the NFL. Defensive ends Trey Hendrickson (9) and Sam Hubbard (27) combine to give Cincinnati the 11th-best defensive line in the league.

The Bengals starting secondary of outside cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Cam Taylor-Britt, slot corner Mike Hilton, and safeties Nick Scott and Daxton Hill comes in at No. 15, according to PFF.

More recently, PFF came out with its NFL linebacker unit rankings, and it should be no surprise to see Cincinnati’s starting duo of Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson among the best.

Pratt, who was listed at No. 20 in the individual rankings, was ranked third among all qualified linebackers with a coverage grade of 87.2. Wilson put up a coverage grade of 73.6 and an overall mark of 72.7 while contributing 16 pressures as a blitzer.

Akeem Davis-Gaither, who had a pass rush grade of 71.2, and Markus Bailey, who posted a run defense grade of 80.4 and an overall mark of 70.9, provide effective depth pieces, and both will be under the age of 27 at the beginning of the season.

“It helps that a lot of guys are in years three and four in this system,” Wilson told Dave Lapham in a recent interview. “The mental processing is even faster than it’s ever been. Guys know where they need to be, what they need to do on each and every play, and guys have the confidence to do that.”

A lot of the credit for that continued improvement has to go to a coaching staff led by head coach Zac Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, both of whom are in their fourth seasons, which has provided consistency and continuity that is rarely seen in today’s NFL.

“It’s rare to have the continuity that we have right now,” Logan agreed. “We’re blessed to have Lou back to run our show on defense. We’re looking forward to just continuing to improve. He’s a player’s coach, and guys really enjoy playing for him. Whatever way we can all work together to try to get ourselves a Super Bowl.”

The Bengals came close in 2021, and Wilson and Pratt were big parts of the reason why. In the wildcard win against the Raiders, Pratt recorded six tackles and made the game-winning interception of Derek Carr. Against the Titans in the Divisional round, Wilson’s interception of a tipped pass from Ryan Tannehill led to the eventual game-winning field goal by Evan McPherson.

Last year, the Bengals made it to the AFC Championship game before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Wilson once again came up big in the playoffs, forcing a fumble in the wildcard win against the Ravens that Hubbard returned 98 yards for a touchdown. Pratt, meanwhile, turned in 12 solo tackles, eight assists, and three passes defenses over the three playoff games.

Those efforts are finally getting recognized, and Cincinnati is once again expected by many to have a top-10 defense in 2023. That stands as a credit to the contributions of everyone involved, including the defensive coordinator.

“Lou has been such a player’s coach, and he understands everyone’s abilities, and he puts them in their best position to be successful within every scheme,” Wilson explained. “Guys respect that, and guys want to play hard for him and, more importantly, play hard for the other 10 guys that are out on the field with you. We’ve developed such a good locker room that it’s just easy to play for the guys next to you.”

How far that takes this version of the Cincinnati Bengals remains to be seen. But the journey should be an interesting one.