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Film Room: From where do the Bengals' tackling woes originate

Despite their record at 5-0, the Bengals have aspects of their play with room for improvement. Tackling, specially in the secondary is probably one of the biggest issues.

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of buzz regarding Cincinnati's defense on Sunday, especially their key stops in the fourth quarter and overtime to give Andy Dalton and the offense a chance to first tie and then win the game. On a less favorable note, the issue of tackline continued. Thomas Rawls, the undrafted running back for Seattle, gashed the Bengals' defense for 169 yards on 23 carries, including a 69-yard touchdown. The Bengals' defense is also allowing the third most 20+ yard plays on the ground, with six plays of the sort allowed. The time is going to come where allowing plays like that is going to cost them a win.

Going back to the tape the first thing I noticed is how old Reggie Nelson has become and that is key. With more three wide sets and teams running out 11 personnel, the importance of the safeties in the running game has increased even more, and right now, the 32-year-old is a liability.  A big share of blame on the Rawls touchdown plays goes to him. Nelson overcommitted inside instead of trying to contain the runner and his lack of speed did not allow him to catch the Seahawks' rookie. When he did try to go for the chop and strip, he failed.


This came after last week's big play allowed to Jeremy Maclin on the shallow cross, even though Kirkpatrick was the one blowing it. Nelson had the chance to make a tackle, to contain the Chiefs' wide receiver and again took a bad angle and left him go.


Is time catching up with Nelson? After another solid season last year he is going through a tough stretch to start off the year.

Another player taking well deserved heat is Dre Kirkpatrick, who has not only been on the wrong side of miscommunications in every other game so far, but is also proving to be a bad tackler, who needs to refine his technique or is going to hurt Cincinnati's defense down the stretch.


This play went for no gain, but his position is just bad and that attempt at an arm tackle is not stopping anyone. It is not the first time where he has been in a position to bring somebody down and failed, and it has to be addressed immediately.


Regarding technique, there is a nice piece from the Wall Street Journal on what NFL teams could learn from rugby, a sport where tackling in open field is key. There are three times the number of tackles in a rugby game, which requires solid fundamentals instead of trying to go for the big play - which oftens causes misses in spectacular fashion. Aim low, lead with your shoulder, try to take down the opponent's center of gravity. I know Cam Chancellor got beat on Sunday, but with players like Vontaze Burfict hurting themselves by tackling with poor technique, it would not hurt to look at a sport that does not have as many head injuries - and it is not even close - and where efficiency is king, not the big play.


This is what happened when Adam Jones went up to try to stop Rawls. That could have easily gone for a touchdown.


This play shows how the NFL wants their players to tackle, wrapping up high and squeezing the opponent.

Some other concerns are in the linebacking corps, where the Bengals are missing Burfict and Vinnie Rey lacks the size and strength, even though he mixes in some good discipline with some bad misses. He arm tackled Rawls on this play and was able to do so because he aimed low and was able to wrap down the running back.


He was not as good here though but Dunlap was at the right spot to help him out.


Maualuga is better at the line of scrimmage.


Some of the issues are bad looks, others are lack of aggression on plays - Iloka on Steve Smith Sr.'s touchdown on fourth down in Baltimore, for example. But Kirkpatrick and Nelson are the two weakest links alongside Rey, who is excelling in other areas. To be fair, Rey does have the third most tackles among all NFL defenders. Rey is a backup who was thrust into the spotlight this year with Burfict out, and Cincinnati is already growing P.J. Dawson for the future. Lamur is another player with a lack of size and strength but at least is playing mostly on coverage. Rey and Lamur in addition to the secondary will need to step up in the short term if this defense wants to continue to improve.