The Cincinnati Bengals entered the offseason needing to improve their defense, and so far they have done a fairly good job to reach that goal.
Adding a linebacker like A.J. Hawk has provided depth to a linebacker corps that has had some injury issues in the past few years. Hawk may not be an elite player, but he is certainly a dependable one.
The biggest area of need on defense for the Bengals this offseason, was to add some help to a pass-rush that was non-existent in 2014. In total last season, the Bengals only had 20 sacks as a team, which was the worst in the NFL. A frightening stat was that both Justin Houston (22.0) of the Kansas City Chiefs and J.J. Watt (20.5) of the Houston Texans had more sacks individually than the Bengals had as a team.
More than half of the Bengals’ sacks came from two players, as Carlos Dunlap led the team with eight sacks, and Geno Atkins had three on the season. Dunlap and Atkins were the only two Bengals with two or more sacks on the season, as getting pressure on the quarterback was impossible for the Bengals at certain points.
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Part of the reason for the drop-off in their pass rush from 2013 to 2014 was the loss of defensive end Michael Johnson. In 2013, the Bengals totaled 43 sacks as a team – more than double what they had in 2014. Johnson helped play a role in that, as he was good opposite of Dunlap with 3.5 sacks. In 2013, it was a balanced attack on the opposing quarterback, as no player had more the 7.5 sacks, but with that depth came success.
Last offseason, Johnson would elect to sign as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as he was given a nice five-year, $43.5 million contract. Johnson’s first year in Tampa Bay was a difficult one, as he was hampered by injuries, which hurt his production in the first year of his big contract. In 2014, Johnson had 4.5 sacks, as it was a disappointing season not only for the Buccaneers, but also for Johnson. The Buccaneers decided to release Johnson after just the one sub-par season and that opened up the door for a reunion in Cincinnati.
Oct 5, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Michael Johnson (90) walks off the field after the New Orleans Saints scored a touchdown in overtime at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to win 37-31. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
After drawing interest from the Bengals and Minnesota Vikings with his former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, Johnson chose to head back to Cincinnati. According to Paul Dehner of Cincinnati.com, Johnson’s deal is a four-year deal worth $20 million. The Bengals will be getting Johnson back a far cheaper price than he signed with the Buccaneers one season ago. They also still have the Buccaneers’ third-round pick that was compensation from Johnson leaving last season, as it has worked out very well for the Bengals.
Building up the defense is going well for the Bengals so far, as they want to reach that elite level of play that they have had years prior to last. Adding another defensive tackle seems to be an area that the Bengals could be looking to address next. As for Johnson, he will help bring back the pass rush of 2013, when the Bengals ranked 10th in the league in sacks that season.
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