Usually passed over until the final rounds of the draft, team defenses are usually an afterthought for fantasy owners. A good team defense can be the difference between taking home the victory and wallowing all week over your loss. Where do the Cincinnati Bengals rank for 2013?
The defensive front is the strength of the Bengals’ defense. For reasons beyond me, this unit is still underrated. Ray Maualuga is coming off a career-best 122 tackles in 2012, and doubled his passes defended to four. Geno Atkins could be the best defensive tackle in the NFL, earning his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, a First Team All-Pro honor and 12.5 sacks.
Along with Michael Johnson, who had 11.5 sacks in 2012, the Bengals will be getting to the quarterback often with this versatile one-two combo. With so many quality players on the front, opponents really can’t double anyone without opening up someone else that can make them pay. Maualuga, Atkins and Johnson each have increased their tackle production every season thus far.
The Bengals also added James Harrison from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who is still capable of getting to the quarterback (six sacks in 2012) and making tackles. How much juice he has left in the tank remains to be seen, but opposing offenses will have to account for him to some degree.
I like the schedule with 75 percent of their games coming against lower-scoring teams. Outside of games against the New England Patriots (first in the NFL team offense in 2012), Green Bay Packers (fifth) the two games against the Baltimore Ravens (10th), the rest of the Bengals schedule features teams that finished 16th or worse in team offense in 2012.
I love the potential for Atkins and Johnson to rack up the sacks this season, as they face five of the ten most sacked quarterbacks from 2012 (Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck, Jay Cutler and Joe Flacco twice).
The Bengals don’t have a true shutdown cornerback, yet still finished seventh in passing defense last season. Defensive coordinator Bob Zimmer is about as good as they come, and excels at using his players’ strengths to his advantage, opposed to coaches who attempt to make players fit to their system regardless of if it suits their strengths or not.
While I like the 75 percent of their schedule, the 25 percent against the Patriots, Packers and Ravens twice could be very problematic for Cincinnati.
The silver lining for the 25 percent section of the schedule is it could give the special teams ample opportunity to shine. Brandon Tate finished 10th in NFL kick return yards with 795 last season. Compound that with Green Bay and New England finishing 18th and 19th in kick returns against, with Baltimore finishing dead last in 2012, and Tate looks like a solid bet to do some damage in those four games.
The punt returner is Adam Jones, who finished eighth in yards per punt return with 11.6, and is only a few seasons removed from being considered one of the top return men in the game. The question is if he can stay healthy and out of trouble.
Overall, this unit is young and already making noise. They were the eighth-highest scoring D/ST in 2012. They have plenty of potential and value. Currently averaging in the six spot on the team defenses and special teams, this is a unit that should crack the top five.