Defense Looks To Rebound...And Fast

Sam Hubbard's defense stopped the offense's four-minute drill on Tuesday.
Sam Hubbard's defense stopped the offense's four-minute drill on Tuesday.

The Bengals defense, so good in training camp but not so good in Saturday night’s pre-season opener, is going back to basics Thursday night (7:30 p.m. - Cincinnati’s Local 12) in Washington. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo likes how is unit is coming together, but he also knows the NFL is all about current events.

A closer look at the 38-17 loss in Kansas City shows that 14 points came off two muffed punts to set up touchdown drives of 19 and 35 yards. But Anarumo wasn’t going to play.

“So far so good. But it’s what have you done for me lately? And the last thing we did wasn’t good enough. Clearly,” said Anarumo after Tuesday’s final tune-up. “Giving up 38 points, 400 yards, whatever it is. When the ball is on the 20 or the 40, it doesn’t matter. That’s the approach we have to take.”

After head coach Zac Taylor briefed the media Tuesday on his plans for Thursday’s lineup, it doesn’t sound like the defense gets a lot of guys back. Pass rusher Carl Lawson won’t play again, but will make his debut next week against the Giants at Paul Brown Stadium. And he had no word yet on when Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins makes his 2019 debut. Cornerback William Jackson III should make his Thursday after practicing Monday and Tuesday. It doesn’t look like back-up tackle Christian Ringo (thumb) is going to play.

Check out some of the best images from training camp on Aug. 13, fueled by Gatorade.

There seems to be a bit of concern for slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard (knee). While calling wide receiver John Ross (hamstring) day-to-day, he classified Dennard as week-to-week.

Taylor says it gets back to playing fast He knows that 59 of those yards came on two of the first three plays of the game. They were two beauties by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a 36-yard play-action bomb to tight end Travis Kelce and a 23-yard swing pass to tight end Blake Bell off another run action.

“There were really two plays on the first drive in Kansas City that got us. Aside from that, we played good football,” Taylor said. “Obviously the first play of the game – the big play down the sideline to Kelce and then when they ran the RPO (run-pass option) and we didn’t have flat control there and they got another explosive play. Just those little things – that’s what’s important. It’s part of the details.

“It’s not a very complicated system here in the preseason. We’re just asking the guys to play fast, play with confidence and play with good eyes. That’s one thing they can do better as a defense as a whole, and they will. It’s the same with the offense and special teams. There were plenty of mistakes that we pointed out that we will get corrected on Thursday, and these guys will play faster.”

Anarumo says missed assignments weren’t the problem in Kansas City and he’s looking for his players to take advantage of the vanilla game plan.

“Not too many of those. Just a matter of executing what we’re them to do and taking what they’ve done in practice and bringing it the game,” Anarumo said. “We didn’t have a lot of defense in. First-game jitters, whatever it was. We have to be better in our technique and assignments. I want to make sure the guys are functioning as a unit working together and communicating. Simple jobs. ‘I’ve got him,’ or ‘I’m rushing the three technique.’ Whatever it is, we have to do a better job of it.’”

Anarumo said his defensive line played the best of his position groups and he said his linebackers have to play more aggressively while making sure they play with proper leverage on running backs. He pointed to a play Nick Vigil allowed in practice to running back Giovani Bernard and a 29-yard touchdown allowed by Hardy Nickerson against the Chiefs.

“Take away the inside and make them throw it somewhere else,” Anarumo said.

The defense has a lot of youth out there and Taylor thought there were a few welcome-to-the-NFL moments on all three phases from his young guys. There were guys who seemed gassed from the nerves and/or adrenaline.

“‘Here’s what it feels like physically when the lights are on and this is for real.’ I think some guys felt that, and that’s good to get it out of our system and go play,” Taylor said. “(The Chiefs) were a great opponent for us, because Andy (Chiefs head coach Reid) has been doing it for a long time. They’ve got great weapons on offense, and it’s a system that’s really humming. You get a chance to see the championship-level effort that we need, and the confidence that they play with is what we have to match.”

But there are also guys that just flat-out need the reps, like rookie middle linebacker Germaine Pratt, the third-round pick.

“He’s as green as grass and we keep working with him,” Anarumo said.

But he also knows the opener is more than four weeks away and he’s not going to give anything away, either. There is only one target. Sept. 8.

“At the end of the day, Seattle is what matters,” Anarumo said. “It’s the process that matters. We’re going to do the things that get us ready for that game.”

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