Bengals run defense should improve with D.J. Reader return

The Cincinnati Bengals struggled last year in many areas of the game, but one of the biggest issues they had was in their rush defense. Cincinnati needs to fill many holes on their roster during the offseason.

Penei Sewell, offensive tackle out of Oregon, is the front runner for the Bengals to take with the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, targeting their biggest area of concern. While that will fill one of the biggest holes on the roster, Cincinnati has several other issues that need to be addressed.

One of the biggest areas of need is adding personnel to improve the Cincinnati run defense. The Bengals were the fourth-worst team in the NFL against the run in 2020. In many games, particularly within the AFC North, the Bengals’ lack of a defensive front hurt their ability to get off the field on third down.

Struggling to get off the field is going to continue to end up costing the Bengals in the future if the problem is not addressed. Luckily, Cincinnati has the answer already on their roster. The Bengals dove into free agency last year in an unprecedented way. Cincinnati spent more on free-agent contracts than ever before.

The Bengals’ biggest deal was to nose tackle D.J. Reader. Reader was supposed to be the leader on the Cincinnati defensive line that changed the fortunes of the run defense. Unfortunately, a season-ending injury prevented him from having his full impact.

A full season of Reader in the middle with defensive ends Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard on the edges have a chance to be a special unit. This past season, the Bengals consistently needed a big body in the middle that could take on double teams and allow the second level to shoot gaps. Reader is the best bet to change this team.

Being able to focus on the offensive line through the draft and free agency, knowing that the defensive line has an automatic boost already signed means Cincinnati could take a big step forward next year.