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Five stats that translate to North repeat


Nose tackle Domata Peko is a big reason the Bengals defense finished first in the NFL last season in limiting foes on first down.

Let's keep the stats coming.  If the Bengals can come close to these numbers, the numbers say they've got a good shot at repeating as AFC North champs and going deep into the playoffs.

21 TURNOVERS:  They were living on borrowed time last year with 30 turnovers, the most of any playoff team.  How good was the Bengals defense? Only the 2-14 Texans and the 4-12 Raiders had more in the AFC with 31.

The 12 playoff teams last season averaged 21 turnovers and eight clubs had 20 or fewer. When the 49ers met Seattle in the NFC title game, it was a match of two teams that had turned it over a combined 37 times.

It's a trend head coach Marvin Lewis would like to turn. In his first seven seasons, the Bengals turned it over an average of 25.5 times per year and in the last four years it has jumped to 28.

90.0 THIRD-DOWN PASSER RATING:  Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was pretty solid last year with an 80.9 third-down passer rating and his seven third-down TD passes were one more than Andrew Luck and Cam Newton, were tied with Colin Kaepernick, and were one fewer than Tom Brady.

Only six of Dalton's 20 interceptions came on third down, the same as Drew Brees, but Brees pumped 13 TDs to get his passer rating to 103.1 on third down. Indeed, 80.9 got Dalton only 19th best in the NFL on third down. Of the QBs that finished in the top 11 (No. 11 being Russell Wilson's 90 third-down rating), five won a playoff game.

4.3 YARDS PER RUSH: This is another stat where the Bengals are living on borrowed time after they finished 28th in the NFL at 3.6 yards per. People can  talk about it being a passing league, but eight of the 12 playoff teams averaged at least 4.2 yards per rush. And two other playoff teams that finished ranked in the 20s (Denver and New Orleans) had a seamless enough passing game to overcome it.

In that Final Four weekend in the conference championship games, three of the teams ran it at least 4.3 per rush during the regular season.

This is another trend Lewis has to reverse. After the Bengals averaged 4.1 yards per rush to sweep the AFC North in 2009, they've averaged 3.8 yards per rush ever since. The man of the hour is new starting running back Giovani Bernard. His 4.1 rookie average last season was the best by a Bengals back with at least 170 carries since Cedric Benson's 4.2 in 2009. TOP TEN IN GENERATING SACKS PER PASS:Considering the Bengals didn't have two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the last seven games of last season, their No. 14 ranking in sacks per pass with a total of 43 is rather remarkable. They just missed getting into the top five in club history for most sacks in a season, two off the fifth-place total of 45 shared by the 1992 and 2011 teams.

Except for right end Michael Johnson, the defensive linemen are here who have contributed to the two biggest sack seasons in Bengals history with the 2012 team setting the Bengals record, 51, spurred by Atkins' 12.5.

But a top ten ranking in sacks per pass was almost an automatic to get into the playoffs last season. All but five of the post-season teams made it with the Saints (fourth) and Super Bowl champion Seahawks (fifth) leading the way.

5.4 YARDS ON FIRST DOWN:  Here's where the Bengals offense can take a cue from its defense. The only playoff team that averaged fewer than the Bengals' 5.1 yards per first-down snap (ranked 21st) was the Panthers at 5.0 (ranked 24th).  The magic number was 5.4 with eight of the post-season teams hitting it.

The Bengals defense led the NFL in allowing 4.31 yards on first down. That category wasn't as much of a marker on defense. Four playoff teams finished lower than 21st, led by the San Diego defense that beat the Bengals in the playoffs. The Chargers' 6.7 average on first down was at the bottom of the league.

That's a stat that plays right into new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's wheelhouse. Good first down production is the sign of a healthy running game and the result is quarterback friendly.

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