Despite minimal player movement, the 2019 Bengals defense is very different to previous years. New defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has taken over a unit that underperformed last year, allowing the most yards in the entire NFL. Below are a few factors that will ensure that history is not repeated.
William Jackson – shutdown corner
There was a step down in the quality of play in 2018 from the former first round pick. This could be due to the increase in snaps from 2017. That year, Jackson’s Pro Football Focus (PFF) stats were All-Pro worthy. Jackson has spoken about how much he is enjoying working with the new coaching staff. The 26 year old producing 2017-esque numbers is paramount to defensive success in 2019.
Multiple contributors on the defensive line
The Bengals have three very promising young defensive linemen in Sam Hubbard, Ryan Glasgow and Carl Lawson. There are also well thought of, yet ageing veterans Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. This defensive line has the potential to be one of the shock units in the AFC.
Improving on last year’s total of 34 sacks means getting a higher contribution from players not named Atkins or Dunlap. The pair combined for 18 last year. Like many other areas of this team, avoiding injury will be another key to making a noticeable improvement from last year.
The linebacker unit of the Bengals is no doubt the weakest position group on the defensive roster. Bengals linebackers ranked last in the league in PFF coverage grades with injury replacements such as Malik Jefferson particularly targeted. Nick Vigil highlighted in a recent interview with bengals.com’s Dan Hoard that he wanted to “become a leader” of this group. The big addition to the unit is 3rd round pick Germaine Pratt who may see playing time early. Vigil and Preston Brown staying healthy remain key factors for the position group.
Last year’s totals of 18 turnovers with 12 interceptions were 21st and 19th in the NFL respectively. The 2018 Bengals cornerbacks did not have a pick between them. Last year, two of the Bengals’ six wins came thanks to defensive touchdowns in the 4th quarter. Therefore forcing more turnovers may well be the factor that decides if the Bengals are playing in January or not.
Getting off the field on third and fourth down
Now, this statement may sound pretty obvious. However, the Bengals were hurt more than most in this area last year. Cincinnati allowed the highest percentage of 3rd down conversions last year with 109 of 223 attempts being successful. The frustrating part of this was the amount of conversions that came on routes underneath to running backs and tight ends.
In addition to this, the Bengals allowed the 6th highest percentage of 4th down conversions. If the defense can not find a way off the field more often this year, the entire team faces an uphill battle.