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Bengals' Defense Primed For Success In AFC North Jungle

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While Geno Atkins has emerged as one of the most formidable defensive tackles in the league, the addition of James Harrison and healthy return of Dre Kirckpatrick should help the Bengals improve upon their lofty rankings in 2012. Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images.
While Geno Atkins has emerged as one of the most formidable defensive tackles in the league, the addition of James Harrison and healthy return of Dre Kirckpatrick should help the Bengals improve upon their lofty rankings in 2012. Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images.

In 2012, the Cincinnati Bengals' defense was formidable to say the least. They ranked sixth in yards allowed, seventh in pass defense and the 12th in rush defense. More importantly, they were eighth in points allowed, holding opponents to 20 per game. 

This year, the Bengals could be even better. 

The defensive line returns intact with DT Geno Atkins leading the way. He not only helped contain the running game, but he also put pressure on opposing quarterbacks up the middle with 12.5 sacks. The two men on the outside – DEs Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson – weren't too shabby either, combining for another 17.5 sacks. DT Domata Peko only collected two sacks, but he must be accounted for in the running game. In total, the Bengals were third in the league for sacking quarterbacks.  

Already a dynamic pass-rushing group, Cincinnati got another boost in the offseason with the signing of LB James Harrison and his 64 career sacks from the Pittsburgh Steelers. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, five- time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion adds an intimidating and hard-hitting veteran presence to a young defensive unit.  

Harrison and second-year sensation Vontaze Burfict (127 tackles) will flank MLB Rey Maualuga. The undrafted Burfict will be looking to add to an impressive rookie campaign. He's a large reason Cincinnati ranked twelfth against the run and Harrison should be able to help the Bengals improve in that area even more.

The secondary is perhaps the most intriguing unit. S Reggie Nelson and CB Leon Hall have their positions locked down while rookie S Shawn Williams (third-round selection) has impressed in camp so far and looks to displace Taylor Mays. Second-year man CB Dre Kirkpatrick (2012 first-rounder) has also distanced himself in camp for the other starting cornerback spot. He only played five games last year as he was dealing with injuries, but he's out ahead of Adam Jones and Terrence Newman so far. S George Iloka – a 2012 fifth-round draft choice – is reportedly performing very well in camp as well. 

With young, physically-gifted players finding their way to starting jobs, the unit is more than capable of building upon last year's very respectable pass defense, where they held opponents to an a average of 213 yards a game and an 80.7 QB rating. 

Combined with a pass rush that should be at least as good as last year's, a linebacking group that got a veteran boost in Harrison and a hungry secondary perhaps emerging as one of the stringiest in the league, the recipe is in place for quite a bit of success with this group. Barring injuries, Cincinnati will look for its defense to get after the quarterback, create turnovers and continue to lock down the end zone, which should aid a deep playoff run.