Since 2008 when Mike Zimmer came to Cincinnati to take over as the teams’ defensive coordinator, the Bengals’ pass-rush has risen to one of the best in the NFL at pressuring the opposing quarterback. They ranked 5th in the NFL last season with 45 sacks. Despite playing in only 12 games last season, DE Carlos Dunlap was a significant contributor to that cause, as he ranked 4th on the team with 4.5 sacks. Its hard to grasp the fact that Dunlap has played in only 24 games in his 2 years as a Bengal, and only one of them came as a start. Mike Zimmer has used him as a situational pass rusher, a role he has thrived in at times.
After Dunlap was taken by the Bengals in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL Draft, he had been passed over for the likes of Vernon Gholston (#6 overall), Derrick Harvey (#8 overall), Brandon Graham (#13 overall), Jerry Hughes (#31 overall). Those four players had combined for a total of 12 sacks in 3 NFL Seasons going into 2012. In that same time frame, Dunlap has produced 14 sacks in only 24 games played.
In 2010, all 10 of his sacks came in the final eight weeks of the season. That led to big expectations for him coming into the 2011 season, but he got off to a disappointing start and didn’t have a sack until week 7. Then came his epic Week 8 performance against the Seattle Seahawks, where Dunlap had the best game of any 4-3 DE last year, racking up a sack, 3 QB hits, and 8 QB pressures.
He continued his heightened level of play against the Titans the following week, getting 2 sacks, including a crucial one late in the game that prevented a Titans rally, but injured his hamstring in the process. He would never fully recover from the injury, and missed 4 of the next 5 games, and was able to get only 1.5 sacks the rest of the season. He finished with a disappointing 4.5 sacks, and left much to be desire.
That didn’t stop Pro Football Focus from tabbing Dunlap as one of their Secret Superstars coming into 2012:
A quick look at our Pass Rushing Productivity Signature Stat reveals two interesting points. Firstly, Dunlap ranks highly, finishing the season with a PRP rating of 13.1; fifth among all 4-3 DE’s who played at least 25% of their teams’ snaps. This Signature Stat measures pressure on a per-snap basis, showing how often a player generates pressure as opposed to just how often they sack the opposing QB.
The second thing you would notice is that of the 278 times Dunlap rushed the passer in 2011, every one of them came from the left side. While some players are used primarily on one side, he was one of only five qualifying DE’s to rush the passer from one side exclusively. This is interesting because it allows us to see who Dunlap is competing with for snaps from that left defensive end spot.