A top-ten defense that was expected to help carry a young offense that was featuring a revamped wide receiver roster, inexperience at the offensive guards and a free agent running back, is simply not getting the job done. During the regular season opener on Monday Night Football, the Baltimore Ravens scored on seven of nine possessions, save for a knee at the end of the second quarter. In consecutive weeks rookie quarterbacks have accounted for 628 yards (passing and rushing) and scored four touchdowns. Opposing offenses are averaging 5.8 yards/rush this season and every starting running back has scored a touchdown with Ray Rice (6.8), Trent Richardson (5.7) and Alfred Morris (4.6) averaging well above the league rushing average.
It's somewhat a shock to the system. After finishing last year as the No. 7 defense in the NFL, Mike Zimmer's unit is ranked No. 29 this season.
This year's defense has allowed 140.2 yards more per game this year compared to last. Last season's defense either forced a turnover or a punt during 27 of 37 possessions -- or 73 percent of the time. That number has dropped significantly this year, forcing a punt or turnover during 15 of 31 possessions. Last year's defense allowed five possessions of 60 yards or more; that number has doubled this year. Last year's defense allowed only seven plays of 20 yards or more. This year it's 15.
Could it be the shift in personnel? Perhaps. During the first three games last year the Bengals had defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Pat Sims; the former making his 2012 debut last week against the Redskins, the latter still on PUP. They also had linebacker Thomas Howard, who went on Injured Reserve during practice leading up to the Browns this year. Last year's defense also had Jonathan Fanene, Frostee Rucker and dare we say, Chris Crocker. Additionally Leon Hall and Nate Clements, last year's starting cornerbacks, have also missed time this season.
Through the first three games.
|Total||276.3 (3rd)||416.7 (29th)|
|Scoring||18.0 (6th)||34 (t-30th)|
|3rd Downs Allowed||33% (6th)||36% (t-12th)|
|Rushing||88.0 (7th)||155.0 (31st)|
|Rushing TDs||2 (t-13th)||5 (t-28th)|
|20-Yard Runs||0 (t-1st)||2 (t-11th)|
|Passing||188.3 (5th)||261.7 (22nd)|
|Passing TDs||4 (t-10th)||5 (t-15th)|
|Sacks||9 (t-7th)||11 (4th)|
|QB Rating||85.8 (15th)||110.2 (30th)|
|20-Yard Passes Allowed||7 (t-4th)||13 (t-25th)|
|Interceptions||1 (t-27th)||0 (t-30th)|
Though people will undoubtedly point to a plethora of reasons for Cincinnati's liable defense, it always points to an issue of tackling.
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said after beating the Cleveland Browns that "we didn’t tackle the football very well in the open field". Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, after watching his defense allow 439 yards against the Cleveland Browns this season, incensed at his players said, "I'm not going to stand pat for this." The following week the Bengals allowed 31 points and 381 yards to the Washington Redskins; the latter being a season-low.
Earlier this week Marvin Lewis was asked about being among the worst run defenses in the NFL.
Tackling. That’s how you struggle in run defense.
According to Pro Football Focus, Nate Clements, Robert Geathers, Jeromy Miles and Devon Still are rated as the team's worst run defenders, with Rey Maualuga being the worst (-11.6), generating one of the highest missed tackles (7) numbers this season. And while we're not trying to pile on Maualuga, PFF rates him as the worst inside linebacker in the league.
Whatever the reasons or whomever is the culprit, the season remains extremely young. And despite the adversity that this defense has faced, the offense provided Cincinnati a boost to beat Cleveland and Washington, starting the season 2-1. However at some point the offense will need to rely on the defense, yet with time to fix the issues that could jeopardize the postseason. Save for Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars have a mediocre No. 30 offense. Call it an opportunity for confidence building, something this defense desperately need.