Commentary

Focus will be on Bengals' D

There is plenty of talent in Cincinnati to win the division, but it won't happen unless the defense plays better, writes Len Pasquarelli.

Originally Published: August 14, 2007
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com
GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- Five observations on the Cincinnati Bengals, gleaned from the team's Aug. 12-13 practices:

1. The Bengals' D needs some bite

There is certainly sufficient talent on hand, especially on offense, for Cincinnati to contend for the division crown. But for the Bengals to play to their potential, and to earn the second playoff spot of coach Marvin Lewis' tenure, the defense must be more persistent and more consistent. The raw defensive statistics are somewhat misleading and overlook the fact that, at one stretch of the 2006 campaign, the unit actually carried Cincinnati for several games while the much-hyped offense was suffering a glut of turnovers. Still, the bottom line remains this: In Lewis' four seasons, the Cincinnati defense never has ranked higher than 19th in the league and three times rated 28th or lower. Last season, the Bengals were ranked 30th in the league and were next to last in pass defense. For a guy like Lewis, who earned his NFL stripes and a Super Bowl ring with Baltimore in 2000 as a brilliant defensive coordinator, the stats must be a little galling. "We have to keep drafting good players," Lewis said before practice. "We have to want to get better and have to play as a team. And we have to grow some [fortitude]."

The Bengals appear a little thin at linebacker, a position where they haven't had much good fortune lately, having lost their top two choices in the 2005 draft to a career-threatening neck injury (first-rounder David Pollack) and to a prolonged suspension (second-round pick Odell Thurman). Middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks, a third-round choice in the 2006 supplemental draft, has first-round skills. But for all his physical impressiveness, he doesn't seem to make a lot of plays, and had zero tackles in the preseason opener.