Cincinnati Bengals: Three Keys to Containing Russell Wilson

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 05: Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks scrambles in the pocket against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half during the Wild Card Round at AT&T Stadium on January 05, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 05: Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks scrambles in the pocket against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half during the Wild Card Round at AT&T Stadium on January 05, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

Russell Wilson is one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the NFL. He presents many problems for opposing defenses. Here is what the Bengals must do to contain him in Sunday’s season opener. 

The Cincinnati Bengals kick off their regular season by traveling to Seattle to face Russell Wilson and the Seahawks this Sunday.  While there is hope Zac Taylor’s new scheme can put up some points against a solid defense like Seattle, the Cincinnati defense will need to keep this game fairly low scoring to help out their rookie head coach.

Even though Chris Carson broke out last year on the ground, the entire Seattle offense still revolves around quarterback Russell Wilson. If the Bengals can contain him, they have a good chance of stifling the entire offense. It won’t be easy given their deficiencies at linebacker. However, they have a strong defensive line and a fast secondary to help them along the way. With that said, here are the three keys to containing Wilson in Week 1

1. Keep Him in the Pocket   

This seems obvious, but it is something defenses struggle to do against the Seahawks signal caller. Many times, defensive linemen get overly aggressive when getting after the quarterback. Wilson uses this to his advantage by getting linemen to commit all their weight one way and getting around them.

The defensive ends need to stay shallow. If the offensive linemen can get them to bend far enough, it will open a lane for Wilson. It is tempting to try to bend the edge and get the sack, but chances are Wilson is too quick and elusive to actually get to the ground. The ends need to focus on hand work rather than speed rushes this week.

The defensive tackles need to ensure they maintain their gaps by staying north and south. In the same way ends try to bend the edge, defensive tackles may get strung out trying to work horizontally around interior linemen. Again, this gives Wilson a lane to run through. They need to focus on bull rushes to pressure Wilson, something Geno Atkins should have no problem doing.

By keeping him in the pocket, the Bengals can work to collapse around him. This will prevent him from escaping and dragging plays out, leaving the secondary vulnerable. It won’t result in as many sacks, but the pressures will decrease big plays. This will be especially helpful in getting them off the field once they force a third down.

2. Keep the Secondary Engaged 

Chances are Wilson will escape the pocket at least once come Sunday, despite the defensive lines best efforts. This is where he really does his damage.

The average play lasts less than five seconds and the secondary is used to that. However, with Wilson under center, he can drag plays out. As you can see from the clip above from Samuel Gold via Twitter, he was able to scramble longer than the defensive backs were expecting.

The entire secondary had stopped and were coming back towards Wilson. The receiver was able to slip behind them and come down with the catch. The corners and safeties need to avoid leaving the receiver to bring down Wilson. It is best to leave that task to the defensive line and linebackers.

When Wilson begins to scramble, the play breaks down and it becomes less about tactics and more about schoolyard football. The Bengals have a good counter to this. William Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick are two of the more athletic corners in the league. These kinds of plays will give them a chance to shine.

3. Keep Him Off the Field

As mentioned before, Wilson drags plays out. With that, he can tire a defense out quickly. Come the fourth quarter, the defense will be  gassed. That is where the offense steps in.

The Bengals must establish the ground game early. This will be extremely difficult given the huge disadvantage the offensive line has against the Seahawks talented front seven. However, the team is returning the AFC leading rusher in Joe Mixon.

Beyond that, the team upgraded their run blocking at both guard positions from a year ago with rookie Michael Jordan (the teams best run blocker) and veteran  John Miller.

Even if they aren’t running the ball in the traditional sense, Cincinnati could attempt to control the clock by running a lot of screens, quick intermediate routes, and sweeps. Anything that can get them yardage in 4-5 yard increments and keep the fast defensive front on their heels will help. The game plan should revolve around Mixon and Tyler Boyd as they are the best options for this type of style.

Three and outs that put the defense back on the field quickly will get the Bengals killed on Sunday. Perhaps they could get away with that against other teams, but not the Seahawks on the road. Flipping the field and giving the defense as much rest as possible will go a long way in helping them contain Russell Wilson.

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If the Bengals can do these three things effectively, they have a shot at kicking off the Zac Taylor era with an upset victory.