Understanding the Bengals defense and why it is the priority this offseason
The quarterback position has been the talk of the off-season for the Cincinnati Bengals. However, there are other areas of need that must be addressed as well. With the first pick all but locked into a new signal-caller, look for the rest of the draft to focus heavily on the other side of the ball, and here is why.
The off-season has been anything but quiet so far for the Cincinnati Bengals. Yes, the quarterback position has been the center of attention and understandably so. What has been lost in all the hoopla, however, is the next biggest priority on the Bengals list, and believe it or not it is not the offensive line.
Let’s get this out of the way. The Bengals feel pretty secure at the tackle position with Jonah Williams, Bobby Hart, and Fred Johnson, who they feel is emerging. They will likely address the guard position, quite possibly in free-agency or perhaps the middle rounds of the draft. Who knows, maybe even both.
However, most of the talk around the organization seems to suggest that defense is the priority this off-season. Here is the next thing we must understand, it goes well beyond just finding an inside linebacker. The Bengals are prepared to re-tool this unit from top to bottom.
To better understand the Bengals’ vison on this re-vamping of sorts, let’s look take a look at the metamorphosis of this defense and what it is becoming.
The scheme has changed
Gone is the traditional base 4-3 employed by Marvin Lewis for over a decade and a half. Zac Taylor wanted a multiple front scheme, and that’s what he got with Lou Anarumo. The Bengals base defense now consists of a 3-4 and 5-2 defensive front.
This is important to understand in order to further understand what they are looking for from a personnel standpoint. Don’t be surprised if Cincinnati does not look as hard at the more traditional middle linebacker or 6’6″ 270-pound defensive end we have grown so accustomed to. This new system relies much more heavily on guys who can do multiple things.
Look for the Bengals to target linebackers that can rush the passer as well as drop into coverage. Also, don’t be surprised to see safety as a possible priority as well. Shawn Williams has been asked to play much more of a hybrid LB/S type role, so bringing in another safety would allow for more of that.
Point being, the Bengals will draft the best value regardless of position. Right now, the Bengals need the best football players, regardless.
Changing of the guard
Age and uncertainty will also play a role in some decisions the Bengals make this off-season. Though it seems that Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins could likely finish out their contracts, they are now entering into more of a secondary role as opposed to building blocks moving forward. The defensive line could possibly be addressed as well this off-season.
As opposed to popular belief, the biggest need on defense isn’t even linebacker but rather cornerback. There are multiple reasons for this. The first reason is the positional priority. Cornerback is simply a more important position than the linebacker. The inside linebacker position in today’s NFL has changed dramatically.
The old school Ray Lewis type linebacker is no longer necessary in the modern game. Now you just need good athletes that can cover a lot of ground. It has become a secondary position, in means of importance and now just a “support role” position. However, the cornerback position is a core part of any defense. You truly cannot have enough good ones on your roster.
The Bengals, in particular, have a lot of questions they must answer with their current cornerback group. Will they resign Darqueze Dennard? Will they be able to lock up William Jackson for the long term?
Dre Kirkpatrick will likely be a cap casualty. This means the only sure long term corner on the roster is currently Darius Phillips. If a quality corner is available at pick 33, do not be surprised if he is the pick. Also, don’t be shocked to see a starting-caliber corner signed in free agency as well. Especially if Kirkpatrick is cut prior to the start of the new league year.
Despite what the stats say, the defense showed promise last season. If the Bengals address this unit wisely this offseason, you could see a dramatic improvement this upcoming season. The offseason will provide a very interesting storyline as to how much better they could be.