Anyone who follows the Cincinnati Bengals knows the value the team's defense places on statistics relative to scoring defense. Forget total defense rankings, which are based on yards allowed, coordinator Paul Guenther has said. To him, it's all about keeping the opposing offense off the scoreboard.
That approach paid off in 2015, when the Bengals ranked second in scoring defense, trailing Seattle by an average of 0.1 points per game.
Though that statistic was important to the Bengals last season, what are some others that will matter for them in 2016? We're spending the next couple of days examining three stats that could bear watching this fall.
We end with:
The Bengals' penchant for collecting penalties
2015 stat: 132 penalties
2016 expectation: This stat will be lower
The lowdown: Steelers kicker Chris Boswell's game-winning 35-yard field goal hadn't even gone through the uprights before the "d-word" started being applied to the Bengals' defense. Discipline: Cincinnati just didn't have it, surmised many who watched the wacky finish to the Bengals' wild-card playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
Since then, the Bengals have met to reinforce a desire to get back to the brand of rough and tough but smart football they were once known for. They made a series of on-field and off-field personnel moves that were partially an extension of those wishes. With the hirings of Bill Lazor (quarterbacks coach), Kevin Coyle (defensive backs coach), Jim Haslett (linebackers coach) and Jacob Burney (defensive line coach) the Bengals have brought in experienced assistants who have been coordinators and head coaches before. The defensive hires in particular bring a hands-on, vocal style of coaching that a couple of players have said they felt they needed.
So with "discipline" being the buzzword after a pair of costly unnecessary penalties from defenders Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict at the end of its playoff loss, Cincinnati is intent on ensuring the penalty problem that popped up in 2015 doesn't return in 2016.
Sure, it's easier said than done, but the Bengals would be wise to revive 2008. Specifically, they will want to have a low number of penalties while also keeping their net penalty yards in their favor, much like they did that season. In 2008, the Bengals had a Marvin Lewis era-low 86 penalties (that ranked fourth in the league that year) and 181 net penalty yards. (The Bengals had 591 penalty yards vs. 772 yards for opponents, ranking fourth.) Last season, they had 132 penalties (19th) with 146 net penalty yards. (The Bengals had 917 penalty yards vs. 1,063 yards for opponents, ranking ninth.)
That said, as we mentioned in the intro, Cincinnati did rank second in scoring defense, allowing 17.4 points per game. Maybe the overly aggressive approach on defense works. In 2013, when the Bengals had 114 penalties and a whopping minus-308 net penalty yards, they were third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.
Even if Bengals' defenders don't lose too much of the edge that made their units so good in other areas in 2013 and 2015, still look for the penalty numbers to dip lower this season. The 132 penalties were unacceptable, particularly given the way last season ended. With some new coaching styles and a very veteran team, expect Cincinnati's number of overall penalties to plunge.