The Cincinnati Bengals have loaded up on the defensive line and edge rushing talent this offseason. Are they trying to replicate what the Eagles did in 2017?
The Philadelphia Eagles proved the value of having great depth along the defensive line and having the ability to rotate their players out keeping everyone fresh. This method helped them win the Super Bowl defeating the New England Patriots last year. Are the Cincinnati Bengals one of the teams looking to replicate that success and depth on the defensive line in 2018?
The Patriots are known for coming out in the first half and consistently running no-huddle plays to wear down defenses early. That had little effect on the Eagles in the Super Bowl, and with their significant amount of talent rushing the passer, it kept their players fresh. It also leads to the Eagles getting a strip sack in the Patriots final drive of the Super Bowl sealing the victory.
Cincinnati looks to be attempting to replicate this with their offseason moves including the draft and UDFA’s. With defensive tackle Geno Atkins, defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, and linebacker Carl Lawson already on the team, the Bengals already had a solid defensive front. Even with the loss of defensive end Chris Smith in free agency, second-year defensive end Jordan Willis will likely take over that role in the rotation during the 2018 season.
That wasn’t good enough for the Bengals as they continued to add members to the front seven this offseason. During free agency, Cincinnati grabbed defensive tackle Chris Baker on a one-year deal. They also seized multiple draft selections to continue adding depth and pass rushers to the unit including Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard, Virginia defensive tackle Andrew Brown, and Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson. Cincinnati followed up by grabbing UDFA Arkansas State edge rusher Ja’von Rolland-Jones.
New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will have plenty of talent to rotate throughout games in 2018, but it will be interesting how he decides to deploy them. Head coach Marvin Lewis has made it known that he is not committing to the 4-3 defensive scheme entirely this season and that there will be a significant amount of changes on the defense. One difference that indicates that we could see some 3-4 schemes deployed this season is the adding more linebacker responsibilities to Carl Lawson job.
Teryl Austin has said that he wants to bring more aggressiveness to the Bengals defense in 2018 in his press conference after being hired. Ja’von Rolland-Jones, while being an undrafted free agent that still has to fight for an opportunity on the roster, is another grab that makes me wonder how much we will see the 3-4 scheme this season. He’s one of my favorite undrafted free agents this season as I just put out what he could bring to Cincinnati today.
Austin emphasized the need for turnovers this season in his press conference as well. Only having 14 last season, the Bengals defense has added playmakers on the back end as well with Wake Forest safety Jessie Bates and Western Michigan cornerback Darius Phillips. Being aggressive up front and getting after the quarterback consistently will help Cincinnati’s defense force more turnovers. Philadelphia has excellent safety help over the top, but their cornerbacks are not elite and having that consistent pass rush took some of the pressure off of their secondary allowing them to make plays on the ball.
When looking at the additions the Bengals have brought in this offseason to add to that rotational unit, Andrew Brown is one that stands out to me. The former Virginia defensive tackle reminds me of Geno Atkins playstyle. I don’t believe he is the key to plugging the spot next to Geno in the 4-3 front but instead being a rotational piece for when Geno comes off the field. Cincinnati has struggled tremendously when Geno rotates off the field, and Brown could be the key to filling that role with less drop-off.
Another package I could see the Bengals deploying if they run some different schemes in 2018 is two down linemen and two edge rushers. Kicking Dunlap inside with Atkins and having guys like Lawson and Hubbard on the outside on third and long situations or obvious passing situations would be very interesting to see.
In a copycat league, there will be multiple teams trying to replicate what the Eagles did last season. Just like teams bringing more three-safety sets into their defense after the New England Patriots have had much success utilizing the look. If Cincinnati can replicate that rotation of talent along the defensive front and keep their players fresh, we could see a dominant force up front in 2018. It would also help minimize injuries along that defensive front.