D.J. Reader Energizes Bengals Defense to Stymie Tennessee Titans

The Cincinnati Bengals are quietly the hottest team in the NFL right now and have won three in a row without star wideout Ja’Marr Chase. Cincinnati faced their toughest test thus far on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans and all-pro running back, Derrick Henry. The Bengals were up to the task, playing their best defensive game of the year, holding Henry to 17 carries and 38 yards rushing for an average of 2.2 yards per carry and winning 20-16. This is the recipe to beat not only the Titans but almost any team in the NFL. The recent success of the Bengals defense is largely attributable to the return of run stuffer and space eater supreme D.J. Reader. The versatility of Reader in both rushing the quarterback and being a dominant force in the run game has come at the perfect time for Cincinnati and its playoff hopes.

D.J. Reader Energizes Bengals Defense to Stymie Tennessee Titans

Reading the Room

When the Bengals made a huge splash in free agency in 2020, their first target was Reader and his ability to affect the outcome of games in the ultra-tough AFC North. The presence of Reader and his pure strength in overpowering offensive linemen was immediately apparent. While Reader did only play in 5 games that 2020 season, it set the framework and foreshowed was the Bengals defensive line would currently become.

Stand Your Ground

Another aspect that makes Reader so important is how his play allows other defensive players to be at their best. Whether it’s freeing up a linebacker in space, or allowing edge rushers to employ a quicker first step, Reader does it all for this Bengals defense.

The Bengals limited the snaps for Reader in his return against Pittsburgh last week and took the training wheels off to face the Titans and Henry. The extra snaps and trust the coaching staff showed with Reader weren’t lost on him as he noted after the game, “It felt good to get one of those. Haven’t had one in a while, just playing physical and just playing ball. You have to be ready to go downhill.” Playing with this mindset will certainly go a long way with six games remaining.

Long Division

The Bengals received an early Christmas present with the Jacksonville Jaguars defeating the Baltimore Ravens. With the Ravens loss, Cincinnati moved into a tie for first place in the division. The Bengals do have a more difficult schedule than Baltimore, but the way this team is playing, they shouldn’t be disregarded down the stretch. The fight for the AFC North may come down to the last game of the season as the Ravens travel to the Jungle. Reader is aptly nicknamed the Gravedigger as a nod to how he plays. In Week 18, he may be in a position to bury Lamar Jackson and the Ravens division title hopes.