In 2011, the Bengals took a young team, led by a rookie quarterback, and shocked fans by going 9-7 and making the playoffs. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green put up some very good numbers, and both made the Pro Bowl. Dalton was solid and played like a more experienced QB, and Green made highlight reels on a weekly basis. However, the offense wasn’t the biggest reason for Cincinnati’s success. The Bengal defense was one of the best in the league, ranking alongside Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and was a major factor in every game.
The defense as a whole, played very well, but it was the defensive line that led the way. They pressured quarterbacks and stuffed the run with equal effectiveness, ranking in the top ten in both categories. Individually, Geno Atkins took a leap to stardom, registering 7.5 sacks from the tackle position and was one of the best defensive tackles in the league. Carlos Dunlap only had 4.5 sacks, but was constantly around the quarterback. Jonathan Fanene, Michael Johnson, and Frostee Rucker all had impact seasons as well. Domata Peko and Pat Sims provided run support to the line, helping hold half of their opponents under 100 yards rushing.