Cincinnati Bengals: Has the Defense Actually Improved Over the Offseason?

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | In 2012, the Cincinnati Bengals defense finished sixth overall in the entire NFL (via CBSSports.com). Instead of bringing in shiny new free agents to bolster the already impressive defense, the Bengals front office decided to spend money to maintain its core.

Spending big money on just a couple of players is not a way to maintain a dominant team for a long period of time. Building around a group of players who are familiar with each other and know how the player beside them will react in a certain situation is how great teams are made.

Yes, the Bengals did go out and sign James Harrison, the former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker. However, that signing was solely to plug a hole in the defense until a suitable replacement could be found.

With the re-signings of Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Rey Maualuga, Robert Geathers, Wallace Gilberry and the placement of the franchise tag on Michael Johnson, the Bengals did exactly what they set out to accomplish.

They kept the defense intact.

During an interview on Bengals.com, former NFL general manager Charlie Casserly had plenty of praise for the Bengals offseason strategy.

"Sometimes the best offseasons you have don't come down to additions, but who do you keep? Who don't you lose? They stayed at home and from what I can see, they did a great job keeping guys that were integral for a young team that has been to the playoffs the last couple of years."

Not many crucial players are missing from the 2012 version of this defense. The only notable departures have been Chris Crocker, Nate Clements, Dan Skuta, Manny Lawson and Pat Sims.

It appears as though the Bengals were ready for these players to depart from the team as they have replacements already in line.

With Clements and Crocker now gone, the Bengals signed Shawn Williams in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft.

The departures of Lawson and Skuta have been reconciled by the signings of Harrison and Aaron Maybin as well as the selection of Sean Porter in the draft.

The replacements for Sims have already been on the roster in the form of 2012 second-round selection Devon Still and third-rounder Brandon Thompson.

Aside from patching up holes where needed, the Bengals will also become much healthier this season in the secondary. Coming back from season-ending injuries are cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick, Shaun Prater and Brandon Ghee. Prater and Ghee showed glimpses of their abilities during camp last year and Kirkpatrick contributed on a limited basis during the season. Each should get a fair chance to contribute in 2013.

So, even though the personnel has not exactly received a significant upgrade, the team should see the benefit of returning players as well as their familiarity with each other.

Why does familiarity play such a crucial role?

For this example, let's take a look at the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, or what Vince Young called the "dream team."

This team had such tremendous talent. In the secondary, the Eagles had three top-tier cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Even with all of these great players on the same side of the ball, the Eagles defense was getting absolutely torched through the air for the duration of the season.

This is because these players -- albeit fantastic playmakers -- could not coexist with each other. Their styles differed so drastically that they could never seem to get on the same page and this would result in huge lapses in coverage.

To the surprise of no one, all three of these players are now with other teams.

If the Bengals employed that same mentality going forward, they could certainly seem to be a much better team on paper. However, that will never matter unless it can translate to the field.

Cincinnati has been making all the right moves over the offseason and looks to have a solid foundation of a team that could be on the precipice of dominance for years to come.

Sean O'Donnell is a contributor for Yahoo! Sports and a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the co-host of the Bengals Central Podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network. You can follow him on Twitter: @SeanODonnellNFL

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Baseball
View Comments