The Cincinnati Bengals were stingy overall last season when it came to allowing touchdowns, but they were stingiest in the area of rushing scores.
Teams struggled to enter the end zone on Cincinnati's third-ranked defense. Only 32 times total, including defensive scores and special teams scores, did they do so.
As we begin a new week, this Monday factoid looks specifically at one type of touchdown the Bengals were quite good at preventing last season, and explores the possibility that they might be able to continue such a positive trend in that area in 2014. The number for the day: 6.
Six times last season opposing offenses ended drives with rushing touchdowns. That was the third-lowest number of rushing scores a defense allowed last season behind the four that Carolina and Seattle's defense gave up, and the five that Arizona's defense permitted.
Overall, the Bengals let their opponents score touchdowns 32 times in 2013. Twenty-two came via a pass, two were the result of interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, another came off a fumble recovery and the other was a punt return that finished in the end zone after punter Kevin Huber was blindsided on a hit the NFL later said should have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Those 32 combined opponent touchdowns ranked as the fourth-lowest figure in the league. Carolina's 21, Seattle's 22 and San Francisco's 30 were lower. The next closest AFC team to the Bengals were the Dolphins, who allowed 33 opposing touchdowns.
But back to the rushing angle of these touchdowns. At no time last season did the Bengals allow more than one rushing touchdown in a game, and only once did they give up rushing scores in consecutive weeks. The rest were spread throughout the season.
Chicago, Green Bay, Buffalo, Miami, Pittsburgh and Minnesota were the six teams who had rushing touchdowns on Cincinnati. The Bengals walked away with an even 3-3 split from those games. The losses to the Bears, Dolphins and Steelers were quite narrow. The wins against the Packers and Bills were close, too. Only the victory against the Vikings was a blowout -- the Bengals won by 28.
It should be pointed out that in their lone playoff game against San Diego, the Bengals gave up two rushing touchdowns. A defense that pitched a rushing touchdown shutout at San Diego a month prior, failed to do the same in the postseason when advancing was on the line. The Bengals weren't very good in any aspect of their rushing defense in that game, getting mostly gashed by runs that went through the heart of the defensive line and secondary.
In all, the Chargers rushed for 196 yards. That was the highest one-game rushing total the Bengals had allowed since the regular-season finale against Baltimore in 2012. Granted, they spent most of that game using backups after they had clinched a playoff berth the week before. So excluding that game, the 196 yards the Chargers had was the most on the Bengals in a single game since Week 3 of 2012 when Washington rushed for 202 yards.
Part of the reason the Bengals have been good against the run is because of their intimidating defensive line. In goal-to-go and short third-down situations the unit responded well in 2013. The Bengals ranked second in third-down conversions and fourth in goal-to-go efficiency. Geno Atkins' presence in the interior played a hand in some of that success, as he helps stuff a lot of run opportunities in the middle of the field. Ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson were quick enough last year to help contain on the outer edge. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict also played quicker than most imagined. He simply has a knack for recognizing the difference in passing and rushing plays quickly enough to consistently finds his way to the ball near the line of scrimmage.
Johnson, of course, was signed by Tampa Bay during free agency. Atkins wasn't around for half of Cincinnati's last season, the victim of a midseason ACL tear. His presence was desperately needed in that playoff game against the Chargers. With his anticipated and hopeful pre-Week 1 return, the Bengals will get back a measure of the interior physicality that they missed late last season.
Since very little else changed for Cincinnati's defense, it stands to reason the unit should be able to shake off the disappointing playoff performance and return to limit opposing teams on the ground. Don't be surprised if they keep opposing offenses under seven rushing touchdowns again.