The Bengals defense is not the same unit that wowed fans and analysts last year. During the Bye Week, there could be tweaks and changes made.
When the 2016 season was on the horizon, there was one aspect of the Cincinnati Bengals that no one doubted. If you had to bet the family farm, you were confident the Defense would be sound. Until the last game of the 2015 campaign, the defense played with a cockiness that made them formidable. But, with the Bengals sitting at 3-4-1, things don’t look so encouraging.
After helping the London Bridge fall down, the Bengals’ defense has fallen to its lowest ranking since the 2005 season. That year the Bengals unit sat at No. 28 to end the year. That’s where the defense currently sits. What’s really happening? Choose your poison. Cincinnati is allowing 262.4 yards per game through the air and 116.1 on the ground. All aspects of the D seem to be failing.
When only four spots are the difference between mediocrity and horrendous, that’s something to ponder. Only 344 yards separates the Bengals from the lowly last place Browns. A couple more games against tight ends like The Gronk and Jordan Reed could make that a reality.
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Guenther Is Talking Change
Having the coaches man up to the players is great. But, will anything really get done? Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has hinted that there could be some changes. The Bengals’ D coordinator was outspoken, per the Dayton Daily News.
"“Even though you’ve been kind of a guy that’s been here, if I think there’s going to be a younger player that I think can do it better at this point, whether it be for 15 more snaps, I’ve got to look at that because some of the guys that have been here, that have been fixtures here, for some reason or another, whether it’s age or whatever it is, they are not playing at a high level. And I’ve got to figure out where I can inject some other guys that can do it better or at least try to.”"
Whether the threat of change helps or bodies have to be physically replaced, moves have to be made. The Week 8 fiasco against the Redskins was an embarrassment. Much can be said about Jay Gruden’s handling of Kirk Cousins. But, letting him air out 468 yards is just too much to bear. Even if Andy Dalton put up the exact same numbers as Cousins, the fear was the defense giving up even more. Who gets the blame for the disaster?
If change comes through player substitution, there’s always the threat of communication breakdown. Learning the Bengals’ defensive scheme won’t come easy. Even the players that were thought to be ready are struggling. Shawn Williams and George Iloka look lost in the secondary. The experience of Reggie Nelson is sorely missed.
Is The Hunger Gone?
There was a time when the intensity of the Bengals defense wasn’t questioned. The squad came out with passion and did their job. There were yards given up but they held the scoring down. Eventually, things change. Fans are witnessing Bengal defenders arguing and shaking their heads in disbelief. But, there is a lack of follow through when things go bad.
If the starters aren’t doing the job on defense, then the hunger has to be found elsewhere. Vontaze Burfict is making tackles but he isn’t the same. Since the NFL has put him under the microscope, he’s thinking more than executing. As a defender, that gives an edge to the offense.
Giving more snaps to the youngsters and first-year players could inject some life into a stagnant defense. Guenter has stated that Nick Vigil and Will Clarke are going to start seeing increased playing time. That should get some fans talking.
To be honest, this is not the same defense that put fear into offenses last year. With that said, the Bye Week should be used for experimentation. Finding the right combination of players is crucial for the stretch run. The Bengals aren’t out of the playoff scenario yet. But, if the defense doesn’t get better, things could go south quick.