The Inexplicable Demise Of One Of The NFL's Best Defenses

Rey Maualuga Cincinnati Bengals

Photo: Getty Images/Elsa

The Bengals made the playoffs last year, as you’ll recall, because they played solid defence and didn’t turn the ball over.But through two games this year, the defence hasn’t just regressed to the mean a little bit, it has been one of the worst units in the entire NFL.

And we have no idea why.

Here are the hard facts:

In 2011, Cincy was 7th in the league in total defence and 9th in points allowed.

They were top-10 in both rushing yards allowed and passing yards allowed, as well as a whole bunch of important categories like yards per rush and yards per pass attempt. They weren’t an elite unit like the 49ers, or a play-making unit like the Packers, but they were gloriously above average.

This year, the script has flipped:

  • In a 34-27 win over the Browns yesterday, Cincy allowed 439 total yards. Cleveland QB Brandon Weeden — who played one of the worst games ever in Week One — threw for 322 yards and had a passer rating of 114.9.
  • Last week against Baltimore, they allowed 44 points and 430 yards to a Baltimore Ravens team that gained 325 yards against the Eagles in a loss yesterday.

A year after being a top-10 defence, Cincy is ranked 30th in total defence and 29th in points allowed, while giving up 118 more yards per game and 15 more points per game than last year.

So what the heck is going on here?

It’s not the personnel.

The core of the defence is the same as it was last year. They even added a few pieces through the draft that should have made them better on paper.

So is it just basic regression?

Our best theory for what’s going on is that Cincy was never as good on defence last year as the stats said. They had a relatively soft schedule outside of the division games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and that made them appear better than they were.

But they shouldn’t be this bad.

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