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Why the Bengals Defense Is Giving Up Yards but Not Points

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 25, 2014

The Bengals defense has made a number of big plays and allows the fewest points in the NFL. How does it do it?
The Bengals defense has made a number of big plays and allows the fewest points in the NFL. How does it do it?Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Through three games, the Cincinnati Bengals possess the top-scoring defense in the NFL, allowing an average of 11 points to their opponents. 

However, the Bengals are not near the top in opponent yards allowed, ranking 17th and giving up an average of 352.7 per game. They are 18th against the run, allowing an average of 113.3 rushing yards per game, and 17th against the pass, allowing 239.3 yards on average.

So how are the Bengals able to hold their opponents to such low scores every week while looking downright average in the yards they've been giving up? 

The biggest key to the Bengals' defensive success is big plays and big plays made at the right time. The Bengals have a total of seven sacks and six interceptions, and those are certainly two ways to make an impact on defense and keep opponents' point totals low.

Three of the Bengals' seven sacks have come on third downs and have served as drive-killers. Five have happened in the second half, not just killing drives but also serving to take advantage of desperate offenses trailing and trying to make something happen.

Trailing offenses pressing the pass is also why the Bengals have recorded four second-half interceptions this year compared to two in first halves. And even when the Bengals aren't picking off their opponents, they're keeping them from completing passes. It's no coincidence that the Bengals are allowing the fewest points though offenses are passing against them more often than any other team.

Collectively, the Bengals have 23 passes defensed. As a result, the Bengals defense ranks first in opposing quarterbacks' completion percentage at 54.29 percent. Opposing offenses appear to be playing right into the Bengals' hands (pun intended). 

Key Bengals Defensive Stats
StatValueRank
Opponent Points Per Game11.01
Opponent Yards Per Game352.717
Opponent Run Attempts Per Game22.34
Opponent Rush Yards Per Game113.318
Opponent Pass Attempts Per Game46.732
Opponent QB Completion %54.29%1
Opponent Red-Zone Attempts Per Game2.02
Opponent Red-Zone Scoring %50.00%T-6
Sacks7T-12
Interceptions6T-1
Passes Defensed231
Source: TeamRankings.com and ESPN

Because of the Bengals' ability to make key stops, opposing offenses aren't reaching the red zone often—only twice per game. And the Bengals are only giving up touchdowns on those two red-zone appearances 50 percent of the time.

Of course, none of this would be as easy without the Bengals offense holding up its end of the bargain. Just as the Bengals defense is holding opponents to few points per game, the Bengals offense is scoring prodigiously, ranking sixth in points per game at 26.7.

The reason why opposing offenses are pressing the pass on the Bengals and why Cincinnati's defense is set up to sack quarterbacks and pick them off is because of the massive point deficits the Bengals offense has put them in. The offense sets them up, and the defense knocks them down.

Bengals opponents fall behind, forcing them to pass. That's when safety George Iloka comes in—he has two interceptions already this year.
Bengals opponents fall behind, forcing them to pass. That's when safety George Iloka comes in—he has two interceptions already this year.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

While there is an element of bend-but-don't-break to Cincinnati's defense, it is only the case because the Bengals are confident of their ability to stop drives before they reach the end zone. As long as Cincinnati's offense continues scoring points, then opposing offenses become predictable—pass, pass again and pass some more.

Therefore, the Bengals have increased opportunities to sack quarterbacks and pick off their passes. As long as offenses are forced to pass against Cincinnati, its defense will continue to make big plays and kill drive after drive. That is the No. 1 reason why the Bengals are giving up yards at an average rate but points at an extraordinarily low one.

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