By Will Pembroke | Staff Writer
Entering the 2019 campaign, the Bengals defense was ranked among the worst in the league in almost every stat category.
They had a difficult time stopping the run game as well as trying to stall the passing attacks of opponents.
This year’s defense did not prove to be much different from the previous season in terms of being able to get stops when they needed them.
Veteran Carlos Dunlap and second-year standout Sam Hubbard proved to be a valuable commodity rushing the passer with a combined 17.5 sacks.
Dunlap registered a team-high 9.0 sacks while Hubbard recorded 8.5 sacks, improving on the total from his rookie campaign. Many hoped edge rusher Carl Lawson would come out firing following a down year when he tore his ACL, but 2019 did not prove to be that season.
The next level of defense was arguably the weakest point of the team’s roster. Linebacker Preston Brown, who was signed to be the stalwart of the defense last offseason, was cut due to his inability to stay in shape.
Nick Vigil was the team’s most consistent tackler at the mid-level and was always seen flying around trying to make plays.
His lack of speed, however, proved detrimental — most notably when superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson came to town.
Outside of those two guys, the Bengals didn’t see much from their linebacking core, which was primarily made up of backups and players signed off the street.
In the secondary, there were a few bright spots. Safeties Jessie Bates and Shawn Williams showed out in a big way, often stopping the opposing team from exploding off of big runs. The combo proved to be a tackling machine over the course of the season and will hopefully be back in 2020 playing together. At the cornerback position, long time starter Dre Kirkpatrick was on injured reserve with a knee issue.
Opposite of him was an up-and-coming player in William Jackson III.
The multi-year starter was consistently the Bengals best cover corner when he was healthy and on the field. Darqueze Dennard and B.W. Webb split time as the team’s slot cornerback with mixed results.
Webb often found himself involved in plays as other teams sought him out as the weak link in the secondary.
All in all, having this group lead the defense as the most consistent unit shows just how poor the defensive play was all year.
Perhaps the biggest bright spot the entire season was the Bengals special teams. They ended the season as the best unit in the league according to Pro Football Focus led by longtime punter Kevin Huber having a career season.
Field goal kicker Randy Bullock had a solid year finishing with an 87% mark on field goals and 96% on PATs.
Return man Brandon Wilson had one of the best highlights of the year when he ran back the opening kickoff in the team’s road game versus Baltimore for a touchdown.
The 2019 Bengals did at least give fans this unit to be proud of.
On the whole, there is much room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
The linebacking core is most in need of improvement from this season to next, along with the defensive line which is getting rather old.
The Bengals should use its 2020 draft positioning to bolster a unit which left much to be desired in 2019.