Analysis: Bengals’ key defensive improvements

By Jake Geiger, Staff writer

The Cincinnati Bengals miracle season fell just short as they lost to the Los Angeles Rams 23-20 in the Super Bowl this past Sunday. Though they lost, there have been many positives this season. The most important factor in the Bengals’ success in the playoffs was their defense and how it steadily improved throughout the season. 

Coming into the season, there were low expectations for the Bengals as star quarterback Joe Burrow was coming off a gruesome ACL injury. They had the worst odds to win the Super Bowl as well. 

Early on, the Bengals offense made electric plays. Ja’Marr Chase would become the Offensive Rookie of the Year, and other playmakers such as Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins would come through when needed. 

The exceptional skill of Burrow put the Bengals in a position to win any game. With that, the defense steadily improved from the first snap in Paul Brown Stadium to SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. 

The young core of safety Jessie Bates, defensive end Sam Hubbard and linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson also stepped up into their starting roles this season. 

Bengals’ safety Jessie Bates was one of several defensive players on the Bengals to step up en route to their miracle Super Bowl run. Bates is an impending free agent but will likely return to Cincinnati in 2022

The Bengals made some key additions such as nose tackle D.J. Reader, cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Chidobie Awuzie, defensive end Trey Hendrickson and safety Vonn Bell. 

The Bengals were ranked 13th in the NFL in points allowed per game. A lot of statistics have the Bengals in this range, and nothing stood out. 

However, what made this defense so special was their ability to make big plays at key moments. Opponents’ fourth down conversions were at 41%, which ranked  the Bengals as the second best in the NFL. They were also ranked in the top 10 in opponents’ interceptions thrown and overall giveaways per game. 

These statistics proved significant in the NFL playoffs, as the Bengals forced one fumble and had eight interceptions. 

In addition to key newcomers and a young core, a couple players led the defensive charge for the Bengals. 

Bates had two interceptions in key moments: in overtime against the Kansas City Chiefs and another in the third quarter of the Super Bowl  last Sunday. 

Hendrickson and Hubbard each had three sacks in the postseason, and Hubbard made a pivotal play against the Chiefs as he sacked quarterback Patrick Mahomes on third down to force a field goal and overtime. 

Lastly, Hilton had an interception in the final minute against the Tennessee Titans,  which gave the Bengals the ball back and ultimately led to the game-winning field goal. Wilson also had a game-winning interception in the first round of the playoffs against the Las Vegas Raiders to seal the Bengals’ first playoff win since 1989.

The Bengals had a lot of fun moments this year and were two minutes away from winning the Super Bowl. It surely is disappointing, but if this young defense develops its strengths, the Bengals could be right back on the NFL’s biggest stage in no time.