In the final game of the 2020 season, the Cincinnati Bengals surrendered over 400 yards of rushing to the Baltimore Ravens in a 38-3 rout. Their defensive line was a flat out liability in 2020, headlining a defense that ranked 29 in rush yards allowed per game that allowed opponents to break 150 yards of total rushing in 10 of 16 games.
In the offseason, they allocated significant capital to acquire Trey Hendrickson and Larry Ogunjobi from the Saints and Browns respectively. In the preseason, they traded former first round pick Billy Price to the Giants for DT BJ Hill. On Sunday, they also welcomed back DJ Reader, who signed a 4-year, $53 million contract prior to the 2020 season in an effort to improve defensive line play but only appeared in 6 games before heading to the injured reserve for the remainder of the season following Week 6.
The offseason focus on the defensive line paid major dividends in Week 1 against what was one of the top rushing attacks in 2020 in Minnesota. Reader, Hendrickson, Ogunjobi, Hill and Sam Hubbard anchored a defensive front that held Dalvin Cook to just 61 yards on 20 carries (3.0 ypc) and generated 12 pressures on Kirk Cousins. In total, the line forced 5 holding penalties against Minnesota’s offensive line, the most of any unit across the league in Week 1.
The narrative for the Bengals heading into the season centers around their trio of playmakers at wide receiver in Jamarr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd that should fuel a potent offensive attack with Joe Burrow back under center.
Burrow’s ability to remain healthy behind an offensive line that should improve from dreadful to average is obviously the Bengals’ most significant priority in 2021, but continued output on par with that from Sunday from the defensive line will only fuel significant value on the Bengals early in the 2021 season. They are underdogs on lookahead lines in 12 of their next 14 games, and are catching 2.5 points against the Bears on Sunday in a matchup where Andy Dalton is starting as of Thursday.