Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson has been the glue holding together the defense for some time now. He hasn’t been the flashiest player, and he’s never been to a Pro Bowl, but he’s been great at doing his job.
And honestly, he may be the most important member on the Bengals defense.
At this point, Johnson does not have the best statistics on the team or the most awards. Last year, he was tied for third on the team in sacks with five, well behind fellow defensive linemen Geno Atkins (11) and Carlos Dunlap (13.5). And several members of the defense made the Pro Bowl team, but none of them were named Michael Johnson.
What Johnson brings to the Bengals is beyond statistics, though. He gives them consistency and brings a calming nature to their defense. No matter what day of the year it is, or who the Bengals are playing, he is going to make an impact some way or another. His reliability helps drive their success.
More importantly, opposing teams must account for him heading into the game. Although he doesn’t have the best sack numbers, if teams ignore and allow him to go one-on-one all game with their left tackle, he will cause havoc. Therefore, offensive coordinators and quarterbacks must know where number 90 is at all times.
Ultimately, that attention creates opportunities for everyone on the Bengals defense. Opposing teams must decide between risking their quarterback’s blind side to add help up the middle, or giving help to the left tackle against Johnson. In the end, the Bengals always win because either Johnson gets a one-on-one opportunity or Geno Atkins gets a one-on-one opportunity.
And as a result, the Bengals get a lot of pressure on the quarterback and a lot of sacks. Last year they ranked 10th in the league with 42 sacks and had the seventh most amount of yards lost with 288.
Honestly with Johnson in the lineup, the top-10 sack numbers are essentially the new normal.
In 2013, they had 43 sacks and were 10th in the NFL. In 2012, they were third best in the NFL with 51.And in 2011, they had the fifth most with 45.
Johnson was the main reason for these impressive stats. During the Bengals best defensive year in 2012, he finished with career-high 11.5 sacks and was regarded as one of the best young defensive ends in the game at the time.
The one season that Johnson was not on the team, 2014, the Bengals produced a league-worst 20 sacks all season.
Now, obviously there were other circumstances that caused that total to dip so low, but a big part of it was the loss of Johnson. And he proved his value last season by returning the Bengals pass rush to dominance with his presence.
Here’s the really good news for Bengals’ fans though. Johnson can and will be even better in 2016.
After an injury-plagued season in 2015 that saw him struggle with a knee injury all season, Johnson is finally healthy and ready to have a breakout season.
One thing is certain. If he does have his best year ever, the Bengals defense will be a force to reckon with this year.
And Johnson will be the catalyst of it.