Continuing my article from yesterday, examining the Cincinnati Bengals, position by position halfway through the 2012 season. This time, I’ll move to the other side of the ball and look at the defense.
The defensive line was the strength of the team last season. There were some changes in the offseason, but it was expected to be a strong unit once again. Geno Atkins is the star up front, wreaking havoc from his defensive tackle position. He is solid against the run, and among the league leaders in sacks as well. He is one of the best in the NFL at his position. Carlos Dunlap is the other disruptive force on the line. When healthy, he finds himself in the backfield quite often, and has been a terror to opposing quarterbacks. Injuries have hampered him, and it has hurt his effectiveness. Michael Johnson has had effective spurts as well, and has six sacks. The rest of the linemen have had moments, but haven’t stood out. Rookies Brandon Thompson and Devon Still have played, but still have to get better. Pat Sims has been injured up to this point, but figures to step in and garner some playing time soon. This unit overall hasn’t been as good as last year, but is still the strength of the defense.
The linebacking unit has been a struggle this season so far. Injury struck early, taking out Thomas Howard, who is probably the team’s best LB. The Bengals have had a tough time filling his shoes, trying several combinations. Rey Maualuga has been the one constant, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The MLB has struggled in all phases of the game thus far. His tendency to run himself out of position, and to bite on fakes leaving him out of position in coverage has been a problem all season. Help could be on the way though. There have been a couple of bright spots at LB in undrafted rookies Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur. Burfict has been a fan favorite since he started getting quality playing time. He has been quick to the ball and solid in coverage, and could be a star in the making. Lamur played extensively in last Sunday’s game and drew nice reviews. He showed quickness and a nose for the ball. MLB needs to be upgraded, but there are some nice, albeit young, players on this unit.