The day after Zac Taylor issued an all-points bulletin for his linebackers to step up their leadership, the Bengals cut their most seasoned one Tuesday when they released Preston Brown in a move that had been telegraphed in last Sunday's snap counts.
In his 80th NFL game Brown played a season-low 38 percent of the snaps, while third-round pick Germaine Pratt worked a career-high 49 percent. After the game profootballfocus.com had Brown rated as 135 out of the league's 160 backers.
"One area where we need to step up is at linebacker," Taylor said on Monday. "Someone needs to step up and be a leader there. We've been waiting on that and shuffling the lineup around waiting on someone to step up and be consistent and be a leader in that room. We're still waiting on that. That's the challenge for those guys in that room right now."
The Bengals have struggled enough at linebacker that they've only been playing two at a time on most downs. (PFF rates Pratt 145 and Vigil 123.) They've taken the brunt of the criticism for the club's last ranking in NFL total defense and run defense. Signed to a three-year, $16.5 million deal in the offseason, Brown was the most expensive.
"We've got to change up the linebacker rotation. It hasn't been good enough up to this point," Taylor said. "We're waiting on someone to step up, be consistent, take over that room and be a leader. We haven't seen it yet. It's time for a change. Those guys have to be more consistent as a group. We felt like this was a change we needed to make."
The Bengals figure to hold off on filling Brown's roster spot until the end of the week as the injury situation settles. Tight end Drew Sample (ankle) was walking around in a boot on Monday and may be lost for at least a few weeks. Wide receiver Alex Erickson is coming into the week questionable. At this point they'd most likely go with a practice squad backer to fill the spot if they go that way.
Reports have the Bengals absorbing about a $6 million hit in the salary cap this season but that's not expected to impact any deal in the future.
TIME OF POSSESSION: If The Athletic's Jay Morrison, the sheik of stats, can go back in his bottomless archives to find a team that kept the ball for 36:11 and got beat by 36, it would be just as stunning as what happened to the Bengals on Sunday against Baltimore.
Of course, that can happen pretty easily when you give up two scoring plays on offense and you're playing a quarterback no one has been able to figure out this year.
Still, emphasizing time of possession isn't a bad way to go. Especially with a rookie quarterback and a struggling defense. Still, it can be dangerous if you're playing a guy like Lamar Jackson in this age of point-a-minute offenses. Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan sees it both ways.
"I think time of possession fits in today's football when you're playing in a complementary role with your defense," Callahan said. "If your defenses struggle to stop people or your defense is on the field a lot, when you possess the ball and you keep them off the field or limit the opportunities the other team has, that's when it becomes effective. I don't think you blindly just say, 'We won the time of possession, we should win the game.' That's probably flawed. But there's time and a place where that does matter, particularly if you're trying to help one side of the ball or the other."
The clock is a pretty good weapon in any era. There have been 40 times this season teams have kept the ball at least 35 minutes in regulation and they are 34-6. For the Bengals, there have been 43 regulation games in their history they had it at least 36:11 like they did Sunday and they've lost eight of them. And it's been almost ten years exactly since losses. They had it 38:24 in Oakland on Nov. 22, 2009 and got beat at the end on a field goal, 20-17.
Pretty good odds.
"You'd like to not give Lamar Jackson as many opportunities to touch the football as you can," Callahan said. "That's certainly part of it. There's a time and a place where time of possession, you can look at it and it matters. There are also times you look at and it may not mean as much in a game. But I think for us, it's good for us to be able to possess the ball."