Why the Bengals still need to draft a linebacker early
Brown is an excellent addition by the Bengals who rarely make a splash in free agency. The hopes are that Brown can come in and continue his tackling abilities from Buffalo here in Cincinnati. The concern is that being a one year deal, there is a possibility that Brown could have a big season with the Bengals then walk in free agency in 2019 for a bigger deal. While he turned down other offers for the Bengals in 2018, that doesn’t lock him in for a team friendly deal next season.
The Bengals need someone that can cover the middle of the field and lock it down. Brown is primarily a thumper type linebacker that is used mostly to attack the run game and make the tackle. He was used in the Bills defense often in dime and nickel packages often being asked to cover tight ends and receivers but it was not his specialty. Finding a middle linebacker that can be great against both the run and pass is extremely hard.
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While a sure tackler and a player that locks down his gap assignments, his lack of ability in coverage resulted in his rankings falling. Brown was ranked 47th among linebackers in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus and much of that is due to his issues in coverage. The Bills defense likes to run a lot of cover two where the inside linebacker drops to the deep middle in coverage.
While there were games that Brown had good success in this scheme like against the Kansas City Chiefs in week 12. Star tight end Travis Kelce was held to 3 catches for 39 yards in the Bills win over the Chiefs. The Bills did a great job smothering Kelce and making him almost useless and part of that success came from Brown covering the deep middle. It was a very good game for Brown but other games he struggled to cover the deep middle of the field.
Even though Brown will be able to help against the run, the Bengals need a player that can cover the middle of the field. That’s not saying that Brown is terrible in coverage but it’s not his strong suit and Cincinnati has struggled to find someone that can cover the middle of the field with the linebackers they have brought in. His instincts in the passing game are not the playmaker type that will cause turnovers for the Bengals defense.
As the Bengals struggled in 2017 to cause turnovers only hauling in 14 all season, they need more playmakers that can get them those turnovers. Brown is most definitely a great acquisition for the Bengals, but they still need more help at the linebacker position. Finding a linebacker that can cover wide receivers and tight ends will be key in the upcoming draft. If not a linebacker, a safety that can play the hybrid role like we talked about with Derwin James from Florida State.
Either way, this defense needs to cause more turnovers in the 2018 season as 14 will not cut it. Cincinnati’s defense needs to grant the offense more opportunities this season if this team is to take a step forward. Bringing in another linebacker or safety that can play a hybrid linebacker role for coverage is a way the team can find a solution for the middle of the field against the pass.