Bengals defense must dial up pressure on opposing quarterbacks

Glenn Adams
Cincinnati Bengals v Miami Dolphins
Cincinnati Bengals v Miami Dolphins / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

All the focus on the Cincinnati Bengals right now is squarely on the offense and the number of hits Joe Burrow is taking. However, there is a different type of pass rush that we should pay attention to as well. The defense must find a way to create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Where the Bengals rank in sacks

The Bengals only have two sacks on the year. That ties them with the Miami Dolphins for 29th in the NFL. On the other end of the spectrum, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead the league with 10 sacks. 

Despite the lack of sacks, Cincinnati’s defense ranks tenth in opposing quarterbacks' QBR with 86. The league’s top two sack teams, Buffalo (9) and Tampa Bay (10), have held opposing quarterbacks to a QBR of 51 and 54.6, respectively. Those are also the best ranking in the league in those categories. So imagine where the Bengals could be if they got more pressure on the quarterback.

How the Bengals got to this point

In Week 1, Cincinnati’s defense got to Mitch Trubisky for one sack but they only added one additional hurry. Week 2 was not better when they brought down Cooper Rush for one sack.  A pass rush on the final drives in both matchups would have come in handy at the end of each game. 

The Dallas Cowboys gave up four sacks, five knockdowns, and seven additional hurries in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers. After their contest with the Bengals, the Steelers’ Trubisky got sacked against the New England Patriots three times. 

This is not the pass rush we were expecting from the Bengals. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has new weapons to work with. Five of the team’s six draft picks come from the defensive side of the ball. Each of them shared the ability to get after the quarterback in college from various positions

Furthermore, Trey Hendrickson is back after a career-high 14-sack season. However, he has not recorded a sack through the first two games. 

Zach Carter, a third-round selection from this year’s draft, has yet to log a stat. He has only played 23 snaps this season. 

B.J. Hill and Sam Hubbard account for each of Cincinnati’s two sacks. 

Where to go from here

So how can the Bengals and Anarumo return to a team that finished 11th in sacks in 2021?

First, they could get their top draft pick involved. Dax Hill should be a piece that can move around. He was adept at blitzing from the safety and corner positions. Also, he can play in the slot, where he primarily lined up at Michigan, allowing Mike Hilton to do what he did so well as a Steeler, blitz from the secondary. Yet, Hill has only logged eight snaps so far this season. Hopefully, his snaps will increase significantly as the season progresses.

Next, the team should rely more on players like Joseph Ossai and Cam Sample on the edge. They spent more time on the interior of the line in passing situations against the Cowboys. 

Playing Ossai and Sample more as ends would allow Hendrickson and Hubbard to be more rested when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter. In addition, they can include Jeff Gunter, a seventh-round edge defender, into the defensive line rotation. He racked up 17 sacks during his time at Coastal Carolina. However, Gunter has not taken a defensive snap while playing 30 snaps on special teams. 

Also, the Bengals should consider calling up Raymond Johnson III from the practice squad. He consistently showed the ability to pressure the opposing quarterbacks throughout the preseason from the defensive end and tackle spots. Let’s see if he can do it in the regular season, building off his excellent preseason performance. 

Expect pressure numbers to improve

The Bengals' defense has played well thus far. They are top 10 in yards and 15th in points allowed per game. Sacks are the one area where they are near the bottom of the league. If they can get more pressure on quarterbacks, especially late in the game, they can turn losses, like in the first two games, into wins, thereby giving the offense more time to turn things around while collecting a few victories.

Hendrickson will get his sack numbers this year. You can count on that. But, hopefully, Anarumo will work his magic and bring pressure from his more versatile defenders. Especially Dax Hill, a healthy first-round pick who had a good preseason and should be counted on to contribute. 

More good news on this front is that the defense is not far from what they did in the first two games last year when they had three sacks, six knockdowns, and three hurries. So they still have time to turn up the pressure. And they will have to with the offense still finding their legs.  

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