As previously mentioned, the Bengals’ defense was the worst in the league at stopping the run in 2019. However, they’ve made the necessary moves to not only improve in that regard, but to establish themselves among the top half of the NFL at slowing opposing rushing attacks.
It all starts with D.J. Reader. In the past, the Bengals have been able to rely on Geno Atkins to be a one-man wrecking crew along the interior. Atkins is now playing at 32 and has significant mileage under his belt, making it unfair to continue to expect him to do so much on his own. He showed signs of slowing last year, so it was smart to give him a young running mate to bolster the run defense.
Defensive line coach Nick Eason now has the 25-year-old Reader to work with, which will help free up Atkins and the others to make plays. Atkins has been used to seeing double teams his entire career. There’s no telling what he can do with more one-on-one matchups.
The secondary has been built to provide support in the run game as well. Waynes and Alexander are both very strong tacklers for their position. That’s before even getting to Bell, who is known as one of the better run-stopping safeties in the league.
If the young linebacker core can come along quickly, there is reason to believe that the run defense can take a leap in 2020.