D.J. Reader Welcomes Teams To Underestimate Bengals: Let Them ‘Roll Into Cincinnati’ And ‘Get Thumped In The Mouth’

The Cincinnati Bengals as a team improved significantly last season, and not just in terms of their win-loss record. While the progress of the offense made headlines—and it was certainly very significant—the defense took key steps forward, primarily through free-agency additions, and was as much the backbone of the team’s turnaround as anything short of having a franchise quarterback and a franchise wide receiver for him to throw to.

Uncharacteristic of the organization, historically, the Bengals have spent the past few free-agency cycles actually investing in outside free agents, which skewed significantly toward the defense. One of their biggest signings was of big defensive tackle D.J. Reader in 2020, who has become a leader of the rising unit.

We know we’re good. We know how we feel about each other. The guys love one another”, the veteran said, via Geoff Hobson of the team’s website. “The guys want to fly around. We’re going to make plays, and I don’t really care if anybody on the outside notices. I’d rather them not and then roll into Cincinnati into Paul Brown on Sundays and get thumped in the mouth”.

The Bengals, of course, are a team that has gotten overlooked quite a lot over the course of the past several decades. Outside of the early years of the A.J. Green-Andy Dalton pairing in 2011-2015, this is a team that hasn’t made much of a dent in generations.

This young Bengals team, however, has a different feel, and let’s be honest, it’s been driven by two things: extremely high premium draft picks that they finally hit on and supplementary assistance through free agency, with a war chest coming as a product of not previously spending cap space and not having much talent worth retaining on big-dollar contracts.

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how they got where they are, it just matters where they are. And right now, they are poised to be a Super Bowl contender in 2022. After all, they were within a minute or two of winning the Super Bowl last year, so one can’t easily dismiss their potential for an encore.

The Bengals had a top-five run defense last season thanks to the play of those like Reader. Although they ultimately finished in the middle of the pack in scoring defense and gave up plenty of passing yardage, that is, to a large extent, the byproduct of having a top-10 scoring offense and plenty of leads to nurse over the course of second halves.

Their per-drive statistics actually look considerably better, as well, speaking rather to the pace at which Bengals games are now played. And they’ve only made themselves better, with top-three draft selections all on defense, starting with safety Dax Hill, then Cam Taylor-Britt at cornerback, and finally lineman Zachary Carter.

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