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Maybe Busting Myths: Youth Movements and Bengals rush defense in the fourth quarter

The Bengals would be better off applying a youth movement on offense through next season.

The Offense's Youth Movement is on the Doorstep. Time to open the gates. We can't stress enough the idea, and purpose, to cut ties with older players and let the youth movement begin on offense. Out with the old, change personnel and hopefully losing mindsets and brooding wide receivers. Typically a youth movement requires at least one season in which winning is sparse (or scarce), focusing on developing younger players. You would think this would be that season, yet movement has been minimal, only applied during season-ending injuries. The good teams apply that movement on both sides of the ball during the same season. The Bengals? Not so much. We haven't had that youth movement, change of the guard on offense, even though the pieces are close, during the Marvin Lewis era. We can turnover our wide receivers, our tight end (though not this year), and positions at two spots on the line with incumbent players experiencing degrading bodies, simply aging, or talent poor. We're close to turnover; we support the idea of grooming guys like Anthony Collins, Nate Livings, Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson, right now, while acquiring additional offensive line depth in the NFL draft.

Is there a better scenario of letting Chad Johnson leave Cincinnati, franchising T.J. Houshmandzadeh to mentor the younger guys? If you know Houshmandzadeh, if you've watched and read about him, you know that he's the smartest, hardest-working, and most precise route-running wide receiver in the NFL. Who would be better to train our younglings?

Keith Rivers figures into the team's LB youth movement.

Defensive youth translated into noticeable improvements. At least we had hoped. Look at the defense, still enjoying the movement; Johnathan Joseph -- drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft -- is the most experienced player of the secondary's regular starters. Marvin White, Chinedum Ndukwe and Leon Hall are playing in only their second season. Even the defensive line has seen youth Rock Bottom age, Pat Sims replaced John Thornton and Domata Peko is playing in only his third season. Robert Geathers is just 25 and Antwan Odom won't turn 30 until 2011.

Rashad Jeanty and Brandon Johnson are only 25, and Keith Rivers is the foundation for the next unit-based turnover. Unfortunately, 2006 set the Bengals linebacker unit backwards after David Pollack suffered a career-ending injury, and Odell Thurman is, well, he's Odell Thurman. Those two weren't just the future at linebacker; rather the future of the team's defensive leadership. Two years later, we're back to getting younger at linebacker, not with the talent of Pollack or Thurman. Rivers was the first step and we expect Middle Linebacker to be looked at in the draft. Brandon Johnson, in our opinion, could become a very effective and dependable outside linebacker if allowed to start opposite Rivers. We like Jeanty, but we believe Johnson is a more talented overall defender whereas Jeanty's strengths are mostly against the run.

Youth doesn't necessarily translate to improving talent or team chemistry.

So the defense's youth movement is still a work in progress, but does it show?

  Total Rush Pass Possession (Time)
2008 340.1 (21st) 130.2 (24th) 209.9 (15th) 33:22 (30th)
2007 348.8 (27th) 118.3 (21st) 230.4 (26th) 30:31 (21st)
2006 355.1 (30th) 116.4 (15th) 238.6 (t-31st) 31:29 (25th)
2005 338.7 (28th) 115.6 (20th) 223.1 (26th) 29:08 (9th)
2004 335.3 (19th) 128.9 (26th) 206.4 (13th) 30:40 (20th)
2003 351.2 (28th) 138.6 (25th) 212.6 (24th) 29:15 (7th)

Examining the charts of total, rush and pass defense, things are suspect. The 340.1 yards-per-game of total defense is the lowest since 2005. The pass defense is averaging 206.4 yards passing, they've ranked in the top-ten for much of the season, and shows clear improvements. The rush defense? Their 130.2 yards rushing allowed is the worst since 2003. And thus, you see why I included the average time of possession on defense. Averaging thirty-three minutes per game is never beneficial to a defense (my Maddenism for this post); which means our offense forces our defense on the field for far too long.

The general theory is that opposing teams gain much of their rushing yards late in the game, when our defense is worn out.

I'm not so sure that's true. Admittedly, I've said and believed that our defense is terrible in the fourth quarter because of fatigue; not so much for statistical reasons, but you do see a worn down defense late in the game missing tackles, hands on hips, etc.. For the season, the Bengals rushing defense has allowed 31.6 yards rushing in the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, they're averaging 35.4 yards rushing for the season. Not a significant drop off, by any means.

Rushing Yards 1-3 Quarters 4th Quarter 4th Q TOP
Week 1 - Baltimore 161 (53.6) 68 13:17
Week 2 - Tennessee 122 (40.7) 55 10:09
Week 3 - NY Giants 80 (26.7) 37 8:43
Week 4 - Cleveland 125 (41.7) 9 10:08
Week 5 - Dallas 156 (52.0) 42 6:55
Week 6 - NY Jets 71 (23.7) 15 9:30
Week 7 - Pittsburgh 87 (29.0) 38 7:25
Week 8 - Houston 50 (16.7) 59 11:24
Week 9 - Jacksonville 62 (20.7) 6 7:27
Week 11 - Philadelphia 46 (15.3) 22 8:53
Week 12 - Pittsburgh 83 (27.7) 38 6:31
  1,043 389  

So does that chart bust a myth? The average yards allowed through the first three quarters, broken down average per quarter, is less than yards allowed in the fourth quarter in seven ball games. However, I don't believe that the Bengals defensive effort against the rush is much worse than previously imagined, statistically speaking. In only two games did the opposing team (Giants, Texans) have their longest rushing gain in the fourth quarter. The opposing team's rushing offense averages one full yard less in the fourth quarter than the preceding three.

Quarters Yards Carries Avg.
1-3 1,043 236 4.4
4 389 115 3.4

The most notable deficiency in the fourth quarter by the rushing defense is this: of the 14 rushing touchdowns allowed, six have come in the fourth quarter.

I still believe that the defense is very tired in most game's fourth quarter. However, that doesn't mean that their performance drops off as significantly as we previously thought. But until the offense improves, or sets a philosophy with a youth movement envisioning a future, none of this matters.

Additional charts used in this post.

Rushing yards allowed, broken down between quarters 1-3 and the fourth quarter. This chart includes carries, breaking down yards per average, and when the opposing team's longest rush attempt occurred in the fourth quarter and the grouping of the 1-3 quarters.

Opponents 1-3 Q Carries Long 4th Q Carries Long
Baltimore 161 26 42 68 20 12
Tennessee 122 25 51 55 16 14
NY Giants 80 21 -- 37 6 22
Cleveland 125 28 18 9 12 5
Dallas 156 28 33 42 10 18
NY Jets 71 20 11 15 7 5
Pittsburgh 87 18 24 38 9 16
Houston 50 17 -- 59 14 20
Jacksonville 62 15 8 6 4 5
Philadelphia 46 12 22 22 6 10
Pittsburgh 83 26 15 38 11 11
  1,043 236 4.4 389 115 3.4

Rushing Touchdowns Allowed, broken down between the 1-3 quarters and the fourth quarter.

Opponents 1-3 Q 4th Q
Baltimore 2 0
Tennessee 1 0
NY Giants 1 0
Cleveland 0 1
Dallas 1 0
NY Jets 1 1
Pittsburgh 1 1
Houston 0 1
Jacksonville 0 1
Philadelphia 0 0
Pittsburgh 1 1
  8 6

Note: the headline picture is a September 20, 2007 Mighty Mite Football League game between the Giants and Bengals. The Bengals won 28-0.