When the Cincinnati Bengals started off slow last year, the argument could be made that at least their defense was playing well. It was the offense that needed to shake the rust off and once they did, the team was a well-oiled machine for the rest of the season.
The defense hasn't been that same trustworthy unit this year. It's really looked bad against the run, as they've now been run roughshod over by the Browns, Ravens, and Titans to start the year.
Two of those three opponents that ran right through the Bengals were two of the best rushing offenses in the league but the Titans managed to do so as well. Derrick Henry hadn't looked like himself until the game against Cincinnati but he dominated their run defense (and also threw a touchdown pass against them).
It shouldn't surprise you when I tell you how the division stacks up against the run this year, per Team Rankings.
AFC North ranked by rushing yards allowed per game
- Cleveland Browns - 71.8 (5th-fewest allowed in the league)
- Baltimore Ravens - 92.5 (7th-fewest allowed in the league)
- Pittsburgh Steelers - 148.5 (4th-most allowed in the league)
- Cincinnati Bengals - 157.0 (2nd-most allowed in the league)
The Browns and Ravens have both been terrific against the run, sitting in the top-10 as far as rushing yards allowed while the Steelers and Bengals are sitting in the bottom five.
It's hard to say for sure what the issue has been for the Bengals against the run this year. They have the same starters on their defensive line from a season ago and Lou Anarumo is still the defensive coordinator after not getting a head coaching job last offseason.
D.J. Reader is playing well, receiving a 70.4 PFF run defense grade and Germaine Pratt has graded out nicely in that department as well with a 70.0 grade. B.J. Hill (47.8) and Logan Wilson (46.2) have not been performing as well against the run, which could be a major factor here. Hill graded out at 63.4 last year and Wilson also was much better with a 67.3 grade. Are these two really the deciding factor here in why the run defense is so bad?
Whatever the issue is, the Cincinnati Bengals need to figure it out quickly. They have James Conner, Kenneth Walker, Christian McCaffrey, James Cook (and Josh Allen) coming up in their next four games so it's time to figure this out and transform into last year's defense again before this season is a total wash.