The Bengals' defense is not by any means the shutdown defense we thought the Bengals would need to win big with Andy Dalton at the helm. One of the main issues has been tackling, and Vontaze Burfict is dearly missed. Missing players aside, other guys like safety Reggie Nelson and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick have been hurting the team as well with missed and poor tackles.
We already explored Kirkpatrick's issues a couple of weeks ago, and he is still trying to figure it out. This past week saw a big play allowed on zone coverage, Sammy Watkins' touchdown at the end of the first half. Let's focus now on Nelson, who led the game against the Bills in tackles and did not miss any, according to ProFootballFocus. This is a nice change after missing at least one tackle in every game this year, and whiffing three times alone against the Chargers in Week 2.
When speaking with ESPN, Nelson said his "biggest thing was just tackle and get us to the next down". Nelson added that "it always is the emphasis every week to tackle, though. That's how we get off the field on third downs and continue to play".
Nelson was better in coverage against hte Bills, but it is not technique that's the issue with Nelson's play so far. It is how old he's looked in the first games of the season. Buffalo did not test the Bengals down the field, and their biggest play was the very first one, in which star running back LeSean McCoy ran for 33 yards. If linebacker Vinnie Rey had not gotten to McCoy that would have been a touchdown. Nelson cannot make that play anymore. He still looks old and slow.
When he had the one-on-one and his opponent in front, Nelson was again the same player who has anchored this secondary for five and a half years. He made some impressive plays down the stretch, and even when tackle numbers are sometimes misleading, this time it was not. Nelson still can tackle, just don't expect him to cover ground and make the plays we were used to seeing him make in his younger days.
This stop at the goal line, where he tackled McCoy for a 1-yard loss, was one of the best defensive plays of the game for the Bengals' defense, in spite of Buffalo scoring quickly after that. You can see on this play that he is still very good and knows where to aim, but again, in Week 8 it is not going to be EJ Manuel but possibly Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton.
Cincinnati could be in trouble if it allows Pittsburgh to hit the open field. Jeremy Maclin in the Chiefs game had a couple of big gains and in one of them he just ran past Nelson. Expect Brown and the Steelers - if Big Ben is back - to give them more trouble than Kansas City.
You could credit him with an improvement, but his other stop down the hill last Sunday was made possible by defensive tackle Geno Atkins coming from behind.
Nelson did not get worse at run support, and we saw why in Buffalo. But his age is finally catching up with him after some great years in Cincinnati. Hopefully the Bengals get gun shy offenses like this more often so their secondary is not tested.