The Bengals defense has been fighting injuries and illness all year and Sunday's finale at Paul Brown Stadium against the Ravens turned out to be no different when they lost two starters before kickoff.
The loss of defensive tackle Mike Daniels to COVID-related reasons and slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander to illness left them without their three best defensive tackles and three top cornerbacks to face Baltimore's No. 1 rush defense operated by reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.
During the offseason the Bengals overhauled their defense by committing about $120 million to signing such free agents as Alexander and Daniels. Their two major signings, cornerback Trae Waynes and defensive tackle D.J. Reader, played a combined five games. Waynes was never able to get on the practice field with a pectoral injury and Reader went down in the fifth week with a torn quad.
Also out Sunday for the third straight game is rookie nickel linebacker Logan Wilson (ankle), their highest drafted defensive player.
The other big signing, strong safety Vonn Bell, comes into this one leading the team with a career-high 111 tackles and three forced fumbles.
With Darius Phillips at one starting cornerback, the Bengals turn to LeShaun Sims starting for cornerback William Jackson III (concussion) and Jalen Davis playing for Alexander, the Bengals are fighting the experience factor.
Sims, a fifth-year veteran, has several NFL starts, but has not played much lately. Davis, a third-year player, arrived with 60 NFL snaps earlier this season and has played 52 more, 51 impressive ones against the Steelers back on Nov. 15.
Cornerback Tony Brown has primarily been a special teamer and played all 71 of his snaps from scrimmage this season in one game, also in that first game against the Steelers. Brown and Davis held up in that one, combining to allow just 10 completions on 20 targets. Pro Football Focus.com also had Brown giving up a touchdown to wide receiver Diontae Johnson.
Phillips had a monster game against Jackson the last time in Baltimore. With the Bengals basically using him as a spy on the Ravens quarterback, PFF rated him Cincinnati's best defensive player that day with two hits on Lamar Jackson, as well as a hurry and two batted balls. Phillips had two interceptions of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield in last year's finale at PBS.
Also active Sunday is cornerback Winston Rose, looking to make his NFL debut after leading the CFL in interceptions last season.
Margus Hunt, who signed in late October, was expected to start for Daniels at defensive tackle.
With Austin Seibert getting his fourth straight chance to kick, Randy Bullock was on the inactive list with Alexander as well as William Jackson, Logan Wilson, offensive linemen Alex Redmond and Keaton Sutherland and tight end Mitchell Wilcox.