Despite allowing the eighth fewest points to be scored against them in the league, the Bengals' defense is allowing 364.8 yards per game, which is not good. But as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said on Monday, the lack of points scored by their rivals is what matters. Cincinnati struggled against the Chiefs in Week 4, but limited the damage to seven field goals and got the win in the end. One of the most criticized players on the Bengals by ratings site ProFootballFocus was Dre Kirkpatrick.
The 6'2" defensive player had always been one of the most maligned players on this roster, as his first round pick status required much more production than he saw for his first three seasons. However, he finally was able to crack into the starting lineup last season. The gifted athlete from Alabama turned his career around with a great showing against the Peyton Manning-led Broncos in 2014 on Monday Night Football and despite not becoming the shutdown corner everyone wished he could be, he earned the spot to be paired with Adam Jones to start the 2015 year and keep the aging Leon Hall in the slot, where he is at his best.
PFF is apparently not buying this, and had Kirkpatrick as their 103rd ranked cornerback in the NFL (out of 104) with a -9.8 overall grade. He had a rough day matching up against Jeremy Maclin, but I think, after rewatching all of his snaps, he is better than that grade makes him seem.
Week 1 at the Raiders:
Kirkpatrick was often matched up against Amari Cooper, who after this game has gone on to catch 19 passes for 292 yards and two scores in the past three weeks, after only managing 54 yards against the Bengals. Kirkpatrick was good against a limited offense that did not throw deep and did not try to challenge the Bengals' secondary. Kirkpatrick was targeted 7 times, allowing just one catch to Rod Streater for 8 yards on a quick hitch that beat the cover 2 defense. He drew an offensive pass interference on his first play and also covered well a deep pass to Michael Crabtree on a post route in the end zone.
The problem is he also got flagged for taunting, making this a first down on CIN 19 instead of 3rd & 6 on the 33. Oakland would end up scoring on the next play, but Kirkpatrick would make up for it by covering well on the following 2-point conversion attempt.
Along with penalties, his two missed tackles from the game became a trend that would follow him in the next games. The other thing I observed from his Week 1 play (and continued to see again) is Kirkpatrick is a good, big, physical corner, but better or more complex offenses could scheme against him, just like the Chiefs did last Sunday.
Week 2 vs the Chargers
Kirkpatrick did not start the game well, allowing a big running play by turning his back to the action.
He would also struggle when lined up in the slot facing Stevie Johnson, being targeted twice and allowing two catches for 24 yards. The second one should have been nullified by a facemask penalty but the refs only saw Kirkpatrick slightly holding the wide receiver.
When it was Keenan Allen in the slot, Kirkpatrick had him perfectly covered. He was consistently good outside, and even stopped Danny Woodhead from getting a first down in the red zone after he had blown past Vinny Rey. Kirkpatrick's good coverage also allowed the defensive line time to put some pressure on Philip Rivers, like in Dunlap's sack in the third quarter or Atkins' and Will Clarke's sack later.
This is on a third and long.
And he also registered his first pass defended on a vertical route by Malcolm Floyd.
But there was also a penalty that turned a 3rd & 19 on San Diego's 11-yard line into a first down. He is not at Brandon Browner's level yet, but Kirkpatrick has already four penalty flags for 26 yards.
The much talked about TD pass that he allowed was a great design by San Diego to beat the Bengals' cover 2, with an in route from the slot that took away the safety. Kirkpatrick never realized that he did not have safety help over the top.
Week 3 at the Ravens
Baltimore had a very good game plan to make up for their lack of receivers and Kirkpatrick showed again that he struggles with acceleration and lateral quickness, but he is still pretty good one-on-one deep. He had his second pass defended of the season on a vertical route by Kamar Aiken, even though it was not a great throw by Joe Flacco.
The Ravens run all kinds of pick plays, screen plays and even had rookie tight end Maxx Williams on the outside to block Kirkpatrick on a reverse. They tried all they had to get Steve Smith Sr. open, even illegal plays like this one.
Kirkpatrick missed tackles, but Iloka also failed to make the play on Smith's impossible touchdown reception on fourth down. Baltimore was taking advantage, like on Michael Campanaro's 11-yard catch on the in route. He read the play well but could not bring him down. He leads the team with seven missed tackles and that has to change if the Bengals want to stay atop the rankings.
Kirkpatrick was also penalized for Steve Smith's second touchdown on a vertical route that featured a push by the veteran receiver. A savvy move by one of the greats of the last two decades. It's hard to cover Smith.
Week 4 vs the Chiefs
This is where a great offensive mind like Andy Reid has studied his opponent defense and knows how to take advantage of it. He took Kirkpatrick to the slot and got rewarded by one of the biggest plays of the game, a big gain on a short pass by Maclin. Nelson is also to blame because instead of containing the in route, he tried to cut it, allowing the speedy former Eagles receiver to run past him. This play shows one of the Bengals' cornerback's biggest flaws.
He is just better outside; when he plays loose he tends to react more slowly than when he trails his man up. One other key play is this catch by Maclin. Cincinnati is going to see this kind of situation very often on Sunday against Russell Wilson, and Kirkpatrick needs to stay focused.
Penalties and missed tackles were also a problem against Kansas City, and with their kind of offense it was key to be able to stop those swing passes.
PFF's numbers for this game are slightly different than mine, but according to their's Kirkpatrick was targeted 10 times allowing 122 yards on seven receptions, and 104 to Jeremy Maclin. Even though mine are smaller, it was a rough outing for him.
Considering his first four games this season though, I don't think he is as bad as Pro Football Focus makes it seem. They only take into account what the player does, not the result of the play, and there are times where he bites in the play action fake, leaving his man open, or has trouble guarding the quick outs, and of course he is not a sure tackler yet. But his skills are appreciated and he brings to the table enough to make this defense work. Now it is up to the coaching staff to try to hide his flaws so another offensive guru does not feast on them. And it is up to Kirkpatrick to tackle better so he is not a liability against speedy receivers and running backs. He still complements this defense allowing the front four to bring pressure to the quarterback - taking away the deep ball - when there is not a blown assignment.
Not a shutdown corner, but neither the next to worst corner in the NFL.