Cincinnati Bengals Position Breakdown: Defensive Line

In the second installment of Bengals Breakdown we’ll take a look at the Cincinnati Bengals defensive line. A group which many believe is the best defensive line in the NFL.

Marvin Lewis arrived in Cincinnati in January of 2003 with hopes of creating the type of defense he had helped build in Baltimore. Instead, the Bengals relied on offensive minded teams led by Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson. They consistently finished in the bottom half of the league in defensive statistics and often found themselves in shootouts with opposing teams.

Many fans and analysts questioned why the Bengals were so offensive reliant when their head coach was known as a defensive genius. Nobody knows for sure, but it seems fairly obvious there was a turning point between Marvin Lewis and Bengals owner Mike Brown. The last five drafts have proven Marvin Lewis is finally getting the players he so long desired.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the defensive line. The AFC North has the reputation of being a smash-mouth division that is “won in the trenches.” Furthermore, the new rules which protect the quarterback have put a premium on pressuring the QB and disrupting his rhythm.

Beginning in 2008, the Cincinnati Bengals have added big and athletic defensive lineman in every draft.

Pat Sims, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Dontay Moch, Brandon Thompson, Devon Still, and Margus Hunt have all been acquired via the draft over the past five years. Pairing these young players with the experienced Domato Peko and Robert Geathers has created arguably the best defensive line in football.

Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap anchor the Defensive Line

Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap anchor the Defensive Line

The interior line is led by Domato Peko and the sensational Geno Atkins. Atkins led the Bengals in sacks last season with 12.5 and is widely considered the best interior lineman in the NFL. Peko is the leader of the defense and is most effective against the run.

The defensive ends are led by veteran Robert Geathers who recently agreed to a 3 year contract. Michael Johnson accounted for 11.5 sacks in 2012 while Gilberry and Dunlap accounted for 6 each, respectively.

One thing which makes the defensive line so dangerous is their ability to sub players in and out of games. The magnitude of talent allows players to stay fresh and consistently pressure the quarterback.

The biggest question going forward is how can the Bengals possibly keep all of these players in stripes. They used the franchise tag to keep Michael Johnson around this season, but have yet to work out a deal with the 26-year old. On July 16, the Bengals announced they reached an agreement with Carlos Dunlap to keep him in Cincinnati through the 2018 season.

The next step will be extending Geno Atkins before he’s eligible to hit free agency in March. Many are speculating a deal could get done before the start of the 2013 season.

Geno Atkins is the best interior lineman in the NFL

Geno Atkins is the best interior lineman in the NFL

It’s clear the Bengals value what they have along the defensive line and would like to retain as many players as possible. The signing of Carlos Dunlap and rumored extension of Geno Atkins proves the Bengals believe they have the formula to win in the AFC North.

There is no doubt the defensive line is the strongest position group for the Cincinnati Bengals. They have the ability to change every game and allow defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to be more aggressive with blitz packages while leaving the cornerbacks in 1 on 1 coverage.

Expectations are unusually high in the Queen City heading into the 2013 season. The Bengals have the opportunity to be a very strong football team in the coming years. The continued production from the defensive line will be key in maintaing a consistent and winning mentality in Cincinnati.

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