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Best Defense is a Good Offense


Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer seems to have his job cut out for him in Cincinnati. Today, he tells John Clayton that the biggest barrier might be in his players’ heads.

"“They really want to get over the hump about people bad-mouthing them so badly,” Zimmer said of his defense. “They have been beaten down so bad. Everything I heard when I came here was how bad the defense was. I didn’t hear one positive thing about them. Eventually you start believing in that stuff.”"

That’s probably true. What’s also true is that the Bengals defense’s reputation for absolute suckishness isn’t (fully) deserved.

Yes, the Bengals’ D put on some abysmal performances last season, highlighted by their atrocious display in week 2, when they allowed the Cleveland Browns to roll over them for 554 yards and 51 points. But everyone seems quick to forget that just the week before, the defense sealed a win via a Michael Myers interception with 1:13 to play.

Yep, in week 3, the defense allowed Seattle to drive for a winning touchdown in the final minutes. But it wasn’t the defense that shanked the kickoff out of bounds and set the Seahawks up at their 40 for that drive, nor was it the defense that fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, allowing the ‘Hawks to run out the clock.

In week 10, the D would generate two picks and two forced fumbles in holding the Ravens to just 7 points. Yes, the Ravens were terrible, but the Bengals defense specializes in making bad offenses look good, right? Not that day. And not two weeks later, when they held Vince Young and the Titans to 6.

How about that 35-27 loss to the Cardinals in between those two games? I don’t know how you can blame the defense for Carson Palmer’s four picks, two of which were run back for TDs by Arizona CB Antrell Rolle. Two weeks later, the D would hold division rival Pittsburgh to just 285 yards, intercept Ben Roethlisberger twice and recover two fumbles — only to watch our alleged offense score 10 whole points. A similar scenario would play out in even more embarrassing fashion two weeks later in San Francisco, when the 49ers’ mighty defense (ranked 20th in the league) would hold Cincy to just 13 points.

In short, while the Bengals 2007 defense can’t by any stretch of the imagination be called good, it had plenty of help from the offense and special teams in looking bad. Just one glaring example: the Bengals offense often couldn’t convert third and fourth downs to save their lives last year. In the loss to San Fran, the Bengals were 1 for 2 on fourth and a miserable 3 for 10 on third. Against Pitt, they were 8 for 18 on third, and whiffed three times in three tries on fourth. No surprise that we lost the time of possession battle in both games.

This is why I don’t believe that the real key to getting back into the playoff hunt is a big improvement on defense. Improvement is needed, for sure. But I’m far more interested in players who can make a difference on offense, especially in third down and red zone situations. (How many times did we watch the Bengals drive inside the 20 last year only to settle for a FG?) Guys like Chris Perry and Ben Utecht. The Bengals need them to come on — and someone to emerge in the No. 3 wideout slot.

The best defense for the Bengals in 2008 will be a good offense.