Dec 15, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers center Cody Wallace (72) lines up against the Cincinnati Bengals defense during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 30-20. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
First Line of Protection
When you think of the 1988 team and the offensive line, one name should immediately come to your mind, Anthony Munoz. The Hall-of-Famer is widely regarded as the best offensive lineman of all time, and he had Esiason’s back all year long in 1988. He, along with Pro Bowl guard Max Montoya, kept Boomer clean in the pocket and provided some of the best run protection that this organization has seen to date. The two Pro Bowl linemen were a big reason (both figuratively and literally) for this team’s offensive success back during Cincinnati’s glory days.
Andrew Whitworth has been one of the best offensive tackles, if not the best offensive tackle, in the NFL over the course of the past two seasons. He may not have the accolades like Munoz had, but Whitworth is easily the second-best offensive lineman in Bengals history after Munoz. And like the Hall-of-Famer, Whitworth has played the entirety of his career in Cincinnati (and looks like he’ll retire a Bengal as well). This Bengals line featuring Big Whit, along with Andre Smith, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, and Kevin Zeitler, has kept Andy Dalton clean for most of the season, allowing only six sacks, four of which came from one game against the Seahawks. In fact, it’s playing so well that most analysts are saying that Cincy’s offensive line is the best in the NFL.
First Line of Defense
The defense was not the star of this Bengals team in 1988, but it received less credit than what was due because of the team’s offensive success. Tim Krumrie, who led the team in tackles, and Jim Skow, who led the team in sacks, both played huge roles in containing the running game and putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Add in a strong supporting cast, including Pro Bowlers David Fulcher and Eric Thomas, and it becomes noticeably difficult to see how anyone could’ve forgotten about this defense.
The reuniting of Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and Domata Peko along the defensive line instantly helped Cincinnati’s defense re-establish itself as a dominant NFL defense. Carlos Dunlap leads the NFL in sacks, Geno Atkins has the second-most sacks among defensive tackles, Michael Johnson has been an excellent run defender and even Domata Peko has made some great plays against both the pass and the run, even tallying two sacks. This defensive line makes Cincinnati’s defense astronomically better than what it was in 2014.
Sep 27, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cincinnati Bengals free safety Reggie Nelson (20) and Adam Jones (24) break up a pass intended for Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken (11) during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Cincinnati Bengals defeated Baltimore Ravens 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Safe in the Secondary
The Cincinnati Bengals were ranked 17th in yardage defense back in 1988, but they had two secondary players that made it dangerous to pass in any direction. Eric Thomas tallied seven interceptions at corner, and his 64 tackles were the most of any Bengals player in the secondary. Safety David Fulcher was excellent along the back end, recording five interceptions, 1.5 sacks and a defensive touchdown. Opposing quarterbacks always had to think twice whenever trying to test the Bengals deep.
Adam Jones has been spectacular in 2015, tallying 29 tackles, six pass deflections, two interceptions, a forced fumble and sack. He’s playing at a Pro Bowl level. And while the rest of the secondary has been banged up, the team will certainly benefit when Reggie Nelson and George Iloka return to health; they’ve been outstanding in their respective careers, and prior to the season, formed a formidable duo that was thought to be one of the league’s best safety tandems.
This Bengals team is one of the best that many young Bengals fans have ever seen, and it is clearly the best team any Bengals fan has seen since 1988. And although many people may be skeptical with the Bengals’ record in the playoffs, they will have a chance to contend for the Super Bowl in 2015. This is undoubtedly the most talented team Marvin Lewis has ever had the chance to coach and the best team most Bengals fans have seen in their lifetime. Could this be the year for the Cincinnati Bengals? We will have to wait and see, but as of now, their odds are looking good.