Defensive deficiencies see Bengals problems continue
The end result was the same, but the process was somewhat different. Different surroundings perhaps? The Bengals returned for their second game at Wembley in front of a crowd that may have been somewhat surprised by the early exchanges in this one.
The LA Rams were heavy favourites and their defense, featuring arguably the league’s most dominant force Aaron Donald, should have feasted on a downtrodden Bengals offense.
THE ‘ZAC TAYLOR’ DRIVE
Zac Taylor, Bengals Head Coach, was brought in to freshen up that side of the ball. However, through seven weeks the Bengals had found themselves unable to sustain drives, correctly utilise stud running back Joe Mixon and generally lift the malaise that had surrounded the entire offense since the back end of the Marvin Lewis era.
Sunday was different, in parts. The second quarter brought us exactly the type of drive fans had imagined when Taylor took the reigns. It had everything. Mixon was able to establish hard yards up front, including a fourth down conversion. Gio Bernard ripped off a 25 yard gain, even Tyler Eifert contributed with a completion. It perfectly encapsulated the type of offense Taylor had been searching for, distilled neatly in to five minutes and twenty-one seconds. Drawing the game level at 10-10.
That being said an evening that saw Dalton throw for 329 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTS wasn’t enough to save the signal callers job. Taylor decided a shift at quarterback was needed on Tuesday, announcing backup QB Ryan Finley as the new starter.
DEFENSIVE ISSUES REAR THEIR HEAD
The major problems appeared to be on the opposite side of the ball. Despite Dalton and co. being unable to add to the scoring, the frailties on defense took centre stage soon after that drive. Chunk plays given up as vast sections of open field became available to the Rams. Cooper Kupp in particular taking advantage, hauling in 165 yards in the first half alone.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo may begin to feel the heat. While Taylor is the figurehead and will be granted time to set things right, Anarumo was a late hire, seemingly one made after others felt the position was one to steer clear of. So what exactly is going so wrong for the Bengals on defense and is there a solution?
The Bengals have managed a feeble two takeaways this year on defense in comparison to their opponents eight. A sure sign of a struggling team. Taylor is well aware of the issue:
“We’ve got to create some turnovers. We had an opportunity to get some turnovers there. These are game changing plays we’ve got to find a way to come up with”.
The plays in question were:
Defensive inefficiencies can certainly be masked when a group can force turnovers regularly. William Jackson III had five interceptions in his senior year in Houston but has only managed two during three years in the NFL. Dre Kirkpatrick, currently injured, has had his share of drops. The secondary has to cash in on opportunities like those presented to them against the Rams or the slide will continue.
SOFT COVERAGE AT THE SECOND LEVEL
Cooper Kupp expertly exposed the Bengals weakness across the middle of the field. Too often there was a gaping gap between the defensive line and the secondary. Speaking of Kupp’s performance Taylor said:
“Had a couple where we had just poor zone discipline on the third down where we should be in those areas and not suck up underneath players and we didn’t, We had poor discipline there, so he made some catches over the middle. It was really the same concept over and over.”
The play below is a single example of how Kupp not only extended plays but got chunks of yardage. Rather than simply getting the first down Kupp is single handedly driving the Rams deep into Bengals territory.
Despite having an impressive redzone defense the Bengals give away too many big yardage plays to remain competitive and the league knows it.
Kupp himself commented on how the Rams were well aware of the glaring deficiencies in Anarumo’s defense:
Here's what Rams WR Cooper Kupp told reporters in London following his 220-yard day: "The Bengals played what they've shown, and we were able to execute what our game plan was."— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) October 27, 2019
A damning indictment if there ever was one.
MAKING THE ANGLE COUNT
The final aspect we are going to look at is a fundamental in terms of defensive football. Pursuit and tackling. Too often Bengals players found themselves in position to come downhill and impact the ball carrier only to misjudge the pursuit or get their angles wrong.
Linebacker is a well known soft spot on this roster and Nick Vigil highlights his limitations below. Despite diagnosing the play and sifting through the traffic, once in the clear Vigil doesn’t explode down on the back. Taking the incorrect angle, it ends up being an easy run-in for Todd Gurley.
Even on Kupp’s trick play touchdown, William Jackson III appears to have the angle on Kupp. If he attacks downhill with force it will still be a big completion but could potentially save the Bengals conceding seven points.
Instead he continually readjusts and backs away before Kupp steamrollers him to get in the endzone. The difference is stark when compared to a player like the Rams’ Eric Weddle, who perfectly exemplifies the commitment and correct approach to physically imposing defense.
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
So is there any positive spin to all of this? Of course, the Bengals have talent on defense and a lot of it is young. William Jackson III and Jessie Bates are having down years but could be the foundation of a strong secondary. Germaine Pratt came unstuck in coverage but should be the true middle linebacker of the future with athletic pieces to be added next to him. Along the defensive front Sam Hubbard and, when healthy, Carl Lawson can be effective pass rushers. Even rookie Rennell Wren and street free agent Anthony Zettel have flashed enough to warrant a deeper look.
Now Taylor has signified his intent to turn to a younger generation in a ‘see what we’ve got’ mode with Finley, it could herald significant snap increases for younger faces on this defense who could form an exciting unit with substantial additions. For now, the Bengals fanship may have to simply endure. Things are likely to get worse before they get better.
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.c
Feature Image Credit: Action Images (Reuters)