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Can Bengals defensive line be the best in the NFL?

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Posted at 9:24 AM, Sep 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-10 08:35:03-04

This week, John Fay is getting answers to nine questions the Bengals face heading into the regular season. This is the sixth of the series.

CINCINNATI -- Can the defensive line be the best in the NFL?

“I feel like it’s all on tape,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “We’ve got guys who had 10 sacks. We’ve got (guys) who had career-highs in sacks last year. And we’ve got some young guys who are going to come in and give us some sacks as well.

“I feel like we’ve got all the tools we need.”

The Bengals defense finished second in the NFL in points allowed last year, the highest a Cincinnati team has ever finished, and the guys up front are the strength of the unit.

The starters -- ends Dunlap and Michael Johnson, tackles Geno Atkins and Domata Peko -- are all veterans coming off good years.

Atkins was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press for the second time. He recorded 11 sacks. Dunlap had 13.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl. Johnson and Peko each had five sacks.

The pressure up front helped the Bengals record 21 interceptions while allowing only 18 touchdown passes. Only one other team, NFC champ Carolina, had more INTs than TDs allowed.

Pro Football Focus rates Atkins at 91.0, elite status. Dunlap rates at 82.4. That’s top 25 edge defenders. Johnson (47.2) and Peko (46.6) aren’t ranked highly, but they are leaders on the defense. Veteran backup Pat Sims came in at 72.0.

Atkins is key to the D-line. He proved he was all the way back from the 2013 knee injury with his numbers last year. In addition to the 11 sacks, he had 17 tackles-for-loss and 19 quarterback hits.

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther thinks Atkins is on the short list of the best tackles in the game.

“No doubt, no question,” Guenther said. “He should be in that conversation. You ask anybody on any offense that we play. When they turn the tape on Monday, he’s the first guy they look at. They say, ‘Oh shoot, we better have a plan for that guy.’ We were the No. 2 scoring defense, and he’s our best player.”

The starters played sparingly in the preseason, but when they did, they were dominating.

“We’re looking forward to the pursuit of happiness,” Dunlap said, “chasing the quarterback.”

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.

QUESTION 1: How will Bengals fare without Tyler Eifert?

QUESTION 2: Will Alex Erickson shine in regular season?

QUESTION 3: How much will Bengals miss Vontaze Burfict?

QUESTION 4: Can Cedric Ogbuehi be a solid replacement for Andre Smith?

QUESTION 5Will Bengals offense change much this season under Ken Zampese?