Going into the season, the Bengals defensive line looked to be much improved. But the question remained whether they would be able to overcome some of the deficiencies of last year's squad. Let's break down the three vital areas as I see them.
Pressuring the QB
The Bengals hardly ever got to the quarterback last year, and when they did, it usually came from the linebacker position.
During the game against Denver on Sunday, the Bengals recorded three sacks, all of which came from the defensive front. DE Antwan Odom recorded two sacks, including one big one late in the game, which knocked Denver out of field goal position.
The other came from Jonathan Fanene.
While some improvement was made along the defensive line, not enough was done to pressure Kyle Orton. In fact, during the second half, Orton appeared to have all day to find an open receiver.
Right now, I'd say the d-line looks improved in the area of rushing the QB, but there's room for much improvement. Much of that comes from the other end, Robert Geathers, who's inconsistency continues to be a problem.
Geathers recorded no stats at all in the game. That can't happen from your key defensive end. Will rookie Michael Johnson (who had a nice debut) push Geathers for more playing time?
Stopping the run
In the preseason, the defensive line looked as though they were going to take it to the next level, regarding stopping the run. The addition of Tank Johnson was sure to help in this area.
For the game against Denver, the run defense was relatively pedestrian. Nothing stood out, but the defensive line did not yield any big plays either. They allowed an average of 3.8 yards per carry and 75 yards.
That's a step in the right direction, from a total yardage standpoint. If you give up less than a 100 yards on the ground, you're giving your team a chance to win.
It would be nice to see the yards per carry average come down to three or less though. While Tank Johnson saw a fair amount of double coverage, he still made a presence with 2 tackles and brings a swagger of nastiness to this line.
Getting off the field
It seems as though game after game last year, the defense would give up a big play on third down, which would both deflate the team and keep a tired defense on the field longer.
So, this year, it was crucial that the defense do what they had to, in order to shut down the run or the pass on third down.
This is the area you could see marked improvement, specifically from the defensive line. The Bengals yielded only 10 first downs to the Broncos and only allowed three third-down conversions (out of 12).
If they can manage to keep up that sort of big play mindset, they can improve in the other areas. As mentioned, one of the big third down plays was when Antwan Odom sacked Orton in the fourth quarter, knocking Denver out of field goal position.
Additionally, rookie Michael Johnson came in three different times on third down and made two tackles and batted a pass down to help bring out the Bronco special team unit.