Posted: 10:40 p.m.
Bengals safety Chris Crocker sees his defense showing up good and mad Sunday in the 4:15 p.m. game against the Bears at Paul Brown Stadium.
"I can promise you a very, very, very angry defense this weekend," Crocker said before Thursday's practice. "I wouldn't say it's been a tougher week. But it's been more focused and more intense."
And angry, because defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has been fuming since Sunday about what is by consensus the worst defensive display of the season for a unit that has been the centerpiece of a 4-2 start. The 472 yards were the most the Bengals have allowed in 22 games under Zimmer.
What galls him, in no particular order, is that his squad gave up five more plays of 20-plus yards to add to a league-leading total of 25. They were soft in the red zone, where they gave up two touchdowns to the tight end. They missed enough tackles to give up what he estimates to be about 150 yards in screen passes.
"We played bad technique, bad effort," Zimmer said. "I didn't do a good job last week. They didn't do a good job last week. When you get in a situation where you think you're pretty good and the only way we're good is when we outhustle, outwork and out-technique people. We didn't do that."
Crocker says when it comes to Zimmer, "There are no mulligans on this side of the ball," and Zimmer explains.
"You only get 16 chances, that's all," he said. "Now we screwed up a lot of deals. We're a good defensive football team. We didn't show it last week. We've given up too many big plays to consider us being a good defensive team. But at times we can be a dominating defensive team. But our times are not enough."
Zimmer says the elements are there. The Bengals defense gets enough three-and-outs (on 34.7 percent of the foes' drives) to be good enough for 15th in the league. It gets enough pressure to be tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks. It is good enough against the run (ranked 11th) that teams don't control the ball on them.
"But we're undisciplined enough that we allow teams to make big plays on us," Zimmer said, "and we've been getting away with it because we've been stopping teams in the red zone."
There is the 87-yard tipped pass that beat the Bengals against Denver, but there haven't been a lot of bombs. Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger beat them with quarterback scrambles. The Texans killed them with screens. They missed a tackle on a dump pass to Ravens running back Ray Rice.
"For the most part," Zimmer said, "we're doing a good job covering the route, but we have to finish the route." Which gets back to what WILL linebacker Keith Rivers calls focus.
"We started out Wednesday with refocusing our energy on making tackles," he said.
The Bears aren't all that different than the Texans, only they've got a better quarterback in Jay Cutler and a better receiving tight end in Greg Olsen. Zimmer says Cutler has a big arm and will try to air it out deep five times a game. Texans tight end Owen Daniels scored two touchdowns and Olsen is good enough to line up many times as a receiver. And, the Bears like to run the screen about five times a game.
"They'll probably try to run it eight times now," Zimmer said.
Zimmer raves about Olsen's size, speed and hands, and Rivers says he's more like a wideout than Daniels. Crocker, however was unimpressed with how Daniels scored his touchdowns. The first one was wide open on a 12-yard pass over the middle and the second was a one-handed, diving seven-yarder, also over the middle.
"I don't think he did," said Crocker when told that Daniels had a heck of a day. "He caught the one in the end zone, that was a heck of a catch, and he caught one that was wide open. He was blocking at first and guys took their eyes off him in zone coverage. I don't think he really hurt us as bad as we hurt ourselves on screens and missed tackles.
"(Olsen) is a good tight end. We watch what he does on film and we'll prepare for him."
Between Baltimore's Todd Heap and Pittsburgh's Heath Miller the Bengals get a dose of big-time tight ends in the AFC North, but the only tight end that scored on them this season before Daniels was Cleveland's Steve Heiden.
A combination of linebackers and safeties are usually responsible for the tight end. Zimmer had a tough time saying anyone did anything well.
"We didn't have the intensity that we've had," Crocker said. "I don't think it was just the secondary. It was all the way across the board. We didn't perform. Now we've got a big ballgame this week. Sold-out stadium. It's big."
Crocker has no doubt that the message has been heard in an angry week of work.
Here's how this defense responded to Zimmer 's anger after bad efforts last year:
After giving the Giants 406 yards, the next week the Bengals throttled a Cleveland team with Jamal Lewis, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and Derek Anderson on 261 yards. After allowing the Cowboys 373 yards, the next week on the road they gave Brett Favre's Jets just 252. After giving up 451 to the Ravens heading into the final four games, they allowed an average of 254 yards with a skeleton roster the rest of the way.
Zimmer, Crocker said, "is good at fixing problems."