SB LVI: Cincinatti Bengals Defense Preview
“The most overlooked and under appreciated unit of the week is the reason the Bengals get to play in So-Fi Stadium this week...”
Sunday, January 3, 2020, the Baltimore Ravens embarrassed the Bengals in Cincinnati 38-3, dropping the Bengals to 4-11-1 to end their season.
Lou Anarumo’s defense finished the 2020 campaign with a bottom five rushing defense, bottom 10 in points and yards per game and dead last in the NFL with 17 sacks. With Joe Burrow tearing his ACL, and a bottom-five defense, general manager Mike Brown knew he needed to make some acquisitions.
Cincinnati kicked off the 2021 offseason with free agent signings of cornerbacks Mike Hilton, Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple.
Shortly after, Zac Taylor and the team announced their largest transaction yet, inking former New Orleans Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson to a four-year, $60-million contract. Hendrickson, who just finished the season with 13.5 sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss, would aim to give this Bengals defense a massive boost.
Following up a 32nd ranked pass rush, Cincy ranked 11th in sacks with 42 and 11th in points per game with 20.7. This defense did a full 180 when it came to the run game and finished a top five rushing defense. With that being said, a stellar defensive regular season meant the Bengals would hold the No. 4 seed in the AFC and a home playoff game against the raiders.
After beating the Raiders 32-13 just eight weeks before, this was an offensive scheme the Bengals were prepared for. Cincinnati went with the “bend don't break” philosophy, allowing over 350 total yards of Raider offense, but holding them to 19 points. Allowing only one touchdown in 71 snaps, while forcing two punts and two turnovers, the Bengals defense did it again and advanced to the Divisional Round against the Titans.
Traveling to Nashville to take on the No. 1 seed Titans would not be an easy task, especially with future Hall of Fame running back Derrick Henry returning after missing the previous 10 weeks.
Cincinnati again elected to use the “bend don't break” strategy, allowing over 350 yards of total offense for the second straight playoff game, while holding the Titans to 16 points. With the Bengals offense only scoring 16 points for the first 59 minutes of the game, it was up to the defense to win the game yet again.
With Tennessee driving down the field with just under a minute left, Logan Wilson intercepted Ryan Tannehill and set up Evan McPherson for a game winning field goal, booking the Bengals tickets to Kansas City to play the Chiefs for the AFC Championship.
Kansas City and its premiere offense has been a problem that only a few teams have solved over the previous four seasons, and it did not seem that Cincinnati was up for that challenge early on.
Patrick Mahomes began the game 16-for-18 passing with three touchdowns on the Chiefs’ first three drives. After trailing 21-10 just before half, Kansas City got greedy and elected to try and score one more time, resulting in free agent signing Eli Apple tackling Tyreek Hill just short of the goal line, running out the remainder of the clock for the second quarter.
While being down 21-13 late in the third quarter, Hendrickson, a typical pass rusher, dropped into coverage resulting in Mahomes forcing a pass that would be intercepted by offseason trade acquisition BJ Hill. This crucial turnover prompted a quick Bengals touchdown and two-point conversion that tied the game at 21. Coach Anumaro shifted his defense to a three man rush, dropping eight players into coverage, frustrating the former NFL MVP.
Again, late in the fourth quarter, with the Bengals holding on to a 24-21 lead with just over a minute to go, the Chiefs offense was in prime position to score, just 10 yards away from the end zone. Sam Hubbard, former third-round pick, was told to “spy” Mahomes, which meant wherever he goes you go. This scheme worked to perfection, as they held the Chiefs to a field goal and forced overtime.
After losing the coin toss, Bengals fans would dread that they would fall victim to a loss the same way the Buffalo Bills had just the week before, not touching the ball in overtime. However that wasn’t the case, as the defense that had only allowed three points in the second half would do it yet again, Jessie Bates batted a ball away that fell into Vonn Bell’s lap. Joe Burrow would then lead his offense down the field, and set up McPherson for a Conference Championship clinching field goal.
This ferocious, yet patient defensive line matches up very well with the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive approach. Cincinnati’s defensive backs, who have been in a cover six two-high shell all postseason long, will look to keep Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. bottled up. Along with their front seven attempting to bottle up the rushing attack of Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson.
While the Joe Burrow Matt Stafford matchup is an entertaining one, the X-Factor of the weekend should be this Cincinnati Bengals defense.
Joseph Granton is a first-year student majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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