Bengals Notebook: Injuries Continue To Pile Up on D-Line; Taylor Seeks To Counter Blitz

Christian Covington (99) has given them some good snaps. Like this one against Lamar Jackson.
Christian Covington (99) has given them some good snaps. Like this one against Lamar Jackson.

It's staggering when you think about it.

The Bengals' three highest-paid players from the offseason are hurt heading into Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Indianapolis. Nose tackle D.J. Reader (knee) was declared out for the year Monday. Cornerback Trae Waynes (pectoral) never made it to the field before surgery and he could be back later in the year.

And head coach Zac Taylor had no time frame for the return of franchise wide receiver A.J. Green when he indicated Monday that Green re-aggravated the hamstring injury that kept him out of most of training camp.

Throw into the mix that defensive end Sam Hubbard (elbow), one of their most reliable players, may miss multiple games for the first time in his career, and there was more to deal with Monday than Xs and Os.

The loss of Reader is the one they couldn't afford up front in a devastating rash of injuries at defensive tackle that has now landed three of them on injured reserve. Sunday's game in Baltimore marked Reader's first game playing with Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins, making his season debut taking a quarter of the snaps after a shoulder injury took him out of the first four games.

"I've been nothing but impressed by D.J., just his effort on every single play, it's not just his talent level, just his overall effort on every single play," Taylor said. "Really the leadership he provided - he's no nonsense, he comes in here and gets the work done. He has high expectations for himself and those around him. (He was) just everything you hoped for when you sign the guy without knowing him too well. I've just been really impressed with D.J. Even his attitude (Sunday) night, just about the direction of the team and his plans for when he comes back healthy just says a lot about D.J."

Reader proved worthy of the Bengals making him the highest-paid nose tackle ever on a four-year, $53 million deal. Before suffering what is believed to be the same torn quad tendon behind the knee that knocked out his backup, Renell Wren, in the first week of camp, Reader was on pace to play more than 900 snaps heading into Sunday's game.

Even though his career-high was 638 in Houston, he responded by playing terrific ball after an offseason he shed about 20 pounds to get to 320. He was forced into such a grind because even before camp started nose tackle Josh Tupou opted out, three technique Ryan Glasgow failed his physical and the veteran brought to the rescue, Mike Daniels, went on injured reserve two weeks ago.

"He's the heart and soul of this defensive line, heart and soul of this defense, really," said defensive tackle Christian Covington, Reader's former Texans teammate. "One of the key guys on this team. To lose a guy like him is hard. I was able to talk to him after the game, obviously (and) talked to him today. He's feeling good. He's optimistic. He has faith in this defense, this team. We've got to pick it up now. We have to fill in the spot that he played with this team and do what we can, honestly." 

Covington has been a stroke of good fortune. He came over in a trade on cutdown weekend, a journeyman backup who has taken a solid 52 percent of the snaps after taking a career-high 45 percent last season in Dallas. He's on pace to play 585 snaps, about 100 more than last season.

"I know what my job is. I have to come in here every single day and be a professional," Covington said. "That's job number one for me. And at the end of the day, too, whatever is asked of me, whatever is required of me, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. I've been blessed to be in this league for six years now. I've played a lot of ball. I've been in a lot of situations. I've been a starter. Obviously, I've been a backup. It is what it is with my career. But at the same time, I'm ready for whatever is asked of me."

X MARKS EXPERIENCE: Until the Bengals signed six-year man Xavier Williams on Monday to replace Reader, they were excruciatingly young in the middle. The tackles getting the majority of the remaining snaps after Atkins, Amani Bledsoe (11 percent), Freedom Akinmoladun (one percent), and Khalil McKenzie (two percent) have played a combined nine NFL games. Veteran Andrew Brown has been inactive for two games.

 The 310-pound Williams brings some girth and games. He's been in some big ones. He's played in 45 games, plus four in the playoffs, with six starts. He played in the last two AFC titles games and had seven tackles in the 2018 loss to the Pats. After missing the bulk of last season with a high ankle sprain, he came back for the playoffs and was active but didn't play in the Super Bowl. He hooked on with the Patriots this year for a game before he was cut.

"He's a big body. When you lose DJ in the 320-plus range, he was the one guy that gave us some girth in there besides McKenzie, who's been a practice squad guy," said defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. "Xavier has played snaps in playoff games last year for Kansas City. He's a bigger body. We need some guys to hold the point with the rushing attacks we're about to play."

And believe that Williams is going to play some in Indy this Sunday. Just listen to Anarumo's tale of cornerback Dimitri Patterson in 2012 when Anarumo was the Dolphins secondary coach.

"We claimed him in like Week 14. The GM comes in my office and says, 'This guy is starting this week.' I say, OK, great. No problem.' The flight got screwed up on Tuesday. The first time I meet the guy is Wednesday during period six of practice," Anarumo said.

"I shake hands with him. I say, 'Get in the huddle,' and I stood behind him and he played 65 plays in the game on Sunday. If a corner can do it, a guy that's got to get into an A or B Gap, he can do it, too. We'll get him ready. Taking on a double team, that doesn't change no matter where you're at. I'm oversimplifying it obviously, but we'll make sure when he's in the game that we're doing things he can do."

DUNLAP'S NEW ROLE: Left end Carlos Dunlap played 29 snaps Sunday, his fewest in eight years. He did get his first sack of the year when Anarumo moved him to primarily third down and gave the start to Carl Lawson. That miffed Dunlap, now one away from tying the franchise sack record.

Asked how he felt Dunlap responded, Anarumo said, "I thought he did a solid job."

The NFL is like Cincinnati weather. If you want a change, just wait 15 minutes. With Hubbard out, that would appear get Dunlap back to the majority of the snaps.

"We're kind of just going through that stuff today," Anarumo said. "Once you get backand you find out what your injuries are, who you can get, who you can't get, so we're still working through all that stuff."

GREEN UPDATE: Taylor had no update on Green, physically or anything else. Green left the game after re-aggravating his hamstring and various speculation has surfaced about his frustration.

Taylor had no comment on it and said he had talked to Green.

"I'll keep all those conversations private, but we talk to our players every week and feel really good about where everything is at," Taylor said.

BLITZ TALK: If he was frustrated, Green wasn't the only frustrated wide receiver. They had trouble getting open quickly on a day rookie quarterback Joe Burrow was getting drilled 15 times by a bevy of Baltimore blitzes and completed just 10 passes to his wideouts on 17 targets. Taylor defended the receivers.

"You have to be smart and efficient on first and second down. You can't be in second-and-15 and third-and-15 all day like we were," Taylor said. "We turned the ball over three times and (two) of those led to points. In a game like that you just can't have that if you intend to compete with them. I feel like the receivers have done a really nice job. There are going to some snaps when you play against (Marlon) Humphrey and Marcus Peters where it's tough and you have to really work to get open. You're going to have to work on time. I would say the receivers did a nice job."

The Ravens had their share of free runners at Burrow, but Taylor said it wasn't because of confusion.

"Two of the three were very standard week-to-week, should be no issues," Taylor said. "One of them we should pick up. I thought two of them were pretty simple."

Taylor said he didn't take wide receiver John Ross on the trip because he was ill Friday and Saturday and didn't think it made sense to put a sick player on a plane with Covid popping up around the league. It was Ross' third straight deactivation.

TAKING A LESSON: Sunday's 205 yards were the second-lowest for a game in Taylor's 21 games as head coach/play caller and he said he took away some lessons after his matchup with Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.

"Trust me there's no missed opportunity in what we can learn from. There's games in my career, not necessarily as a play-caller that I draw from that ring to memory," Taylor said. "We had one in 2018 against the Bears. It was a very humbling experience. I think we lost, 16-6, or something like that and went on to play in the Super Bowl. There's games you've got to learn how to manage. When it doesn't feel like you're in a great rhythm, you've got to find ways to get yourself out of the rut and manufacture points and be smart and careful with the ball. The defense is playing well, lean on them, take advantage of some of the opportunities they're creating, get points on the board and give yourself a chance in the fourth quarter against a good football team to go steal a win."

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