Something that has haunted the Cincinnati Bengals defense for years was the rushing attack. Familiar foes in the AFC North would gash them up and down the field for big gains and lopsided wins. Elite backs would take the Bengals out of games by controlling the clock and washing away any momentum gathered by the Bengals. If they couldn’t stop the run, they often couldn’t win the game. And when Dalvin Cook lined up opposite the striped defenders, not many expected a different outcome.
The running game has been a point of emphasis on both sides of the balls for the Bengals in recent years. Over the past two seasons the front office has been determined to patch up the running lanes often found on the Paul Brown Stadium turf. Bringing in run stuffer DJ Reader, Sam Hubbard’s ascension as a run defender, and the overhauled secondaries’ much welcomed tackling efficiency has paid dividends. The was no better proof than shutting down Dalvin Cook on the ground. The elite Cook only managed 3 yards per carry totaling 61 yards off of 20 carries. Cook did get in for a score but he did not take over the game like so many backs before him have against Cincinnati.
This was crucial for the Bengals success in week 1 who finally broke through for a season debut win after losing two opening day heartbreakers in the Zac Taylor era. The Cincinnati defense was going to have their hands full with Adam Theilen and Justin Jefferson with Trae Waynes inactive. And boy, were they full. Theilen went off for 9 receptions, 92 yards, and not one but two Touchdowns while Jefferson went for 71 yards off of 5 catches and almost taking one in for a touchdown. There would be no victory celebration for Cincinnati if they hadn’t corralled Dalvin Cook at least.
Stuffing the run on the early downs allowed for the defense to pin their ears back on obvious passing downs and get after the Quarterback. Kirk Cousins was affected by Trey Hendrickson off the edge and new comer BJ Hill up the middle who had 2 sacks. Cousins throws missed the mark at times when under pressure while some were tipped by linebackers.
Without Dalvin Cook running away with the game Cincinnati was able to play their game instead of catch-up as they did all of last season. Time of possession was nearly even with the edge going to the Vikings by 18 seconds. The Bengals defense took a step forward after a poor 2020 season allowing the 4th most rushing yards in the NFL and 2nd most yards per carry. Stopping the run, winning the turnover battle, and running your style of offense is a recipe for a win.