Total Defense: 394.8 ypg (25th)
Passing Defense: 276.6 ypg (22nd)
Rushing Defense: 118.2 ypg (23rd)
Points Per Game: 26 (T-20th)
The Bengals operate out of a base 4-3 defense, a front seven that has impressive talent scattered through the depth chart. The defensive line is anchored by Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, who have combined for 10 sacks and 37 total tackles on the year. Atkins (6 sacks) is currently tied with TJ Watt and JJ Watt atop the leaders in the league in the category. Michael Johnson, Andrew Billings, Sam Hubbard and Carl Lawson are also notable names on what’s been a remarkable defensive line thus far.
Vontaze Burfict headlines the linebacker corps after returning to the field following a suspension for use of PED’s. Whatever reservations are held for Burfict, there’s no doubting the positive impact he has on the Bengals defense. Preston Brown and Nick Vigil anchor the other spots to round the front seven out, with Vigil leading the team in tackles through five weeks (49).
Much has been made about Burfict and the Steelers this week, mostly stemming from JuJu Smith-Schuster’s block made last season that injured Burfict. Smith-Schuster told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler “I honestly didn’t want to talk about this. I knew you guys wanted to talk about this and try to get something out of it. I’m just here to get a ‘W’ this weekend and that’s it.”
The big question surrounding the Bengals secondary will be the availability of corner William Jackson, who is questionable with a knee injury. Jackson proved to hold his own on Antonio Brown in the small samples we’ve seen, and would be a huge loss if unable to go. Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick anchor the rest of the secondary, yet the biggest story out of Cincinnati is rookie safety Jessie Bates. Bates has played lights out thus far, leading the team in interceptions (2) and ranking second in tackles (32).
Teryl Austin currently serves as the Bengals defensive coordinator, his first year in such duties. Austin isn’t terribly popular with the Bengals fan base, as many want him out of Cincy despite the team’s 4-1 start. Expect Cincinnati to bring pressure early and often to test the Steelers offensive line, especially if Jackson is unable to go.