Bengals Getting Overrun
Oct 5, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley (22) runs the ball against Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vincent Rey (57) during the second half quarter at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Bengals 43-17. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The Bengals have really struggled to defend the run this year. A surprising reality as the team has possessed a top-tier defense the past few years while also performing pretty well against the run(4.0 yards/carry last year). 2014 has been a different year for the Bengals as opposing teams are looking to exploit them on the ground. If the Bengals want to continue to progress and eventually qualify for their fourth playoff appearance in a row, then they will need to address this issue quickly.
After four games this year, the Bengals have allowed the opposition to rush for 5.0 yards/carry, which has them at 29th in the league. Against the Ravens, the Bengals allowed their lowest yards/carry average of the year, 4.7. It’s a number that is terribly concerning but becomes even more disturbing when taking away Joe Flacco’s three “rushes,” which were really him trying to escape a sack. Justin Forsett and Bernard Pierce combined for a 5.11 yard/carry average while Forsett alone average 6.4 yards. Forsett is hardly a dominant running back, yet this is the story of the Bengals’ season thus far; less than stellar running backs exploiting the Bengals.
The Falcons don’t possess a dominant running back as Steven Jackson is past his prime and Jacquizz Rodgers is more of a “scatback.” Still, the Falcons averaged 5.1 yards/carry while the Bengals allowed Matt Ryan to scramble effectively. The Bengals forced the Falcons to throw often after building an early lead, but allowing a throwing team to run so effectively is worrisome.
When facing the Titans, the Bengals hardly needed to focus on their passing game as Jake Locker isn’t going to beat many teams with his arm. This would assumedly allow the Bengals to focus on stopping their rushing attack. It didn’t matter. The Titans still managed to run for 149 yards on just 28 carries (5.3 yards/carry). Rookie Bishop Sankey was effective while the Bengals allowed Jake Locker and Shonn Greene to each break a 20+ yard run. It may not have mattered ultimately in the game, but, like the reality against the Falcons, is concerning.
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The Bengals rush defense was finally exposed by their first “perennial power” opponent. The Patriots absolutely
defense for 220 yards on 46 carries. If you take away the “rushes” of Jimmy Garoppolo for -4 yards, the Patriots finished 5.2 yards/carry. They made running look easy against one of the league’s best defenses while possessing only Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen; again not dominant backs.
The Bengals had masked their deficiency through the season’s first three games with timely defensive stops in the redzone that helped them build big leads, hence forcing opponents to throw the ball. But the Patriots exposed the Bengals’ weakness. Slowing the game’s pace and wearing down the defense keeps the Bengals from “getting out in front” on the scoreboard. And once an opposing team builds a lead, if you can’t stop the run, they can keep the ball out of your hands, hence putting pressure on the offense. Although Andy Dalton had a solid outing against the Patriots, we all know forcing him into lots of throws and putting the pressure on his shoulders isn’t the formula for long-term success.
“They ran over one hundred yards on us and then they went way over and that is something we need to correct. That starts with us up front here, the defensive line. We all have to be on the same page and they got us off kilter in the beginning of the game.” – Domata Peko on Patriots game
The Bengals currently lack depth at the defensive tackle position. Geno Atkins is slowly working his way back from his ACL injury, but has yet to be the dominant force he was a year ago. Brandon Thompson, the team’s best run stuffer, is likely out for awhile following a knee injury: The team has yet to elaborate on his status, but he’s been out for about three weeks now. Domata Peko has continued to struggle in the middle. He’s often getting pushed around, and though he does get double-teamed often, if he doesn’t force the double-team to stay with him, it’s easy for an opponent to initially shove him away from the “hole” and then move to the second-level. And Devon Still continues to be less than the force his second-round status has suggested he’d be.
Yet, what’s really concerning is opposing teams’ ability to hit the edge. Even with their defensive tackles struggling, teams have been effective when running on the outside of the tackles. This has little to do with the Bengals’ interior linemen. The Bengals need to do a better job setting the edge and keeping the opposition from getting too creative when running the ball.
If the Bengals don’t remedy this issue quick, they may struggle in their bid to repeat as AFC North champions. Failing as bad as they did on the national stage, put the Bengals’ issues out there for everyone to see. There’s no doubt team’s have taken note of the Bengals’ run-stopping woes, so the defensive line better get some fight back in them or it’ll be a long season for such a talented defense.