The Cincinnati Bengals struggled to stop the run game last season. They will have to improve significantly to make the playoffs in 2018.
The Cincinnati Bengals found themselves getting dominated by the run game last season. The defense ranked 30th in the league based on yards given up per game. Failing to stop the run and inability to get off the field on third downs was crucial and a big reason why Cincinnati’s defense struggled in 2017. If the Bengals want to get back to the playoffs this season, they are going to have to plug the holes in the middle and get after running backs.
Starting off the season once again without star linebacker Vontaze Burfict due to suspension is a step in the wrong direction to fixing this issue. Last season without Burfict for the first three games was downright miserable to watch. Both of the first two games against the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans the defense gave up more than 150 rushing yards. Baltimore put up 157 yards and a touchdown while the Texans put up 168 yards and a touchdown.
The Green Bay Packers were the lone team to not excel 100 yards against Cincinnati’s defense without Burfict. Of course, the Packers have never been the team to run the ball hard and have little backfield talent to do so. Green Bay’s running backs only ran the ball 13 times the entire game. Unfortunately, stopping the run game in this one wasn’t enough as the Packers came away with a close victory.
Without Vontaze Burfict involved in the lineup for the first four games in 2018, Cincinnati has to do a better job at stopping the run to prevent another slow start to the season. The Bengals need to get off to a hot start and carry that momentum instead of playing from behind midway through the season. The first four games for the Bengals include the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens on a short week, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons. Aside from the Ravens coming to Cincinnati on Thursday Night Football, the rest of the first quarter of the season will be played on the road.
The Colts are the one team that should not worry Bengals fans. After letting go of Frank Gore, the options at running back are unproven and extremely inexperienced. Getting past week one, however, is when things will get harder. Baltimore put up over 100 yards against the Bengals in both their appearances last season. Even without Terrance West who tore up the Bengals defense in week one, Baltimore was still able to run for 118 yards and a touchdown in the final game of the season.
Following the short week, Cincinnati will travel to Carolina and take on a team that thrives on the running game. With Cam Newton under center, there’s always a possibility he could take off with the football. The Panthers also drafted Christian McCaffery last offseason with guys like Jonathan Stewart and former Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson behind him. McCaffery is a dual threat as he caught 80 passes last season and collected 651 yards and five touchdowns. I have Carolina as one of the hardest games on the schedule, and even harder without Burfict.
The last game on the list without Burfict is the Atlanta Falcons. With running backs duo Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield, it’s going to be hard to stop the Falcons from running the ball. Their passing threat with guys like wide receiver Julio Jones, Mohamad Sanu, and rookie receiver Calvin Ridley, Cincinnati will be stretched pretty thin to stop the Falcons.
Even once Burfict comes back in week five, the Bengals still have top running games to faceoff against in 2018. Facing the New Orleans Saints with Alvin Kamara who was the offensive rookie of the year in 2017 and Mark Ingram, the Pittsburgh Steelers with Le’Veon Bell, and the Kansas City Chiefs with lead back Kareem Hunt who led the league in rushing yards last season.
Facing off against five teams in the top 15 in rushing production last season, Baltimore twice, and against three teams in the top 10 last year, the Bengals defense has to increase their production when it comes to stopping the run. If they continue to get gouged by the run in 2018, it will make it much harder for the Bengals to get back to the postseason.