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Film Room: Bengals pass defense steps up in win over Dolphins

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Tighter coverage and better tackling played a key role in Week 5 win.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins went 3-0 to start the NFL season and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The seventh-year quarterback looked impressive returning from injury, and was running the offense very efficiently over that time period, completing passes on timing route underneath.

The New England Patriots beat the Dolphins largely by playing tight coverage and disrupting the receivers routes. The Bengals have been playing loose coverage and struggling to make tackles on receivers in the early part of the season. This seemed like a recipe for disaster, but the Bengals defense had other plans.


On this first play, we don’t see the tightest coverage here from the Bengals secondary, with cornerbacks Williams Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick playing loose on the wide receivers to the bottom of the screen. Tannehill ends off dumping off the ball to rookie tight end Mike Gesicki who is promptly tackled by Vontaze Burfict.

This is a win for the Bengals. Sure, the Dolphins picked up the first down, but on second and one the odds where they were going to be moving the chains anyway. Burfict broke and immediately tackled Gesicki, not allowing him to pick up another yard. It is good to have the sure tackling athlete back on the field for the Bengals.

Next, the Dolphins get into empty and the Bengals press with the majority of their defenders. Safety Shawn Williams at the top of the screen is the exception. He plays loose on his man, while Kirkpatrick is in press on Dolphins wide receiver Danny Amendola just inside of him. Burfict, Darqueze Dennard, and William Jackson are all pressed on the bottom of the screen. The Bengals send a five-man pressure and have safety Jessie Bates in the deep middle field. The tight coverage makes it hard for Tannehill to complete the quick pass like he wants to. Jackson ends up in better position that the receiver but is not quite able to haul in the interception.

When the Dolphins stack their receivers at the bottom of the screen, Kirkpatrick loosens up and plays over the top of Dennard, but the pair both match up with their man quickly. The running back releases into the flat, and Burfict closes the space and gets right on him. Tannehill tries to force the ball in to wide receiver Albert Wilson who Jackson is pressing at the top of the screen. Jackson is all over him and Wilson is actually called for a pass interference for trying to push off.

Tannehill throws a swing pass to running back Kenyan Drake on this play with wide receiver Kenny Stills blocking Kirkpatrick and Amendola blocking Dennard in the slot. Both defenders defeat their blocks and Kirkpatrick gets to Drake first, tackling him for a two-yard loss. Kirkpatrick had an issue with tackling earlier in the season so it is nice to see him getting off a block and making a sure tackle.


The Bengals played tighter in coverage and did a better job of making tackles after the catch against the Dolphins. It is not clear if the change was based on game plan, the natural growth of the defense, or having their best coverage linebacker back from suspension. Either way, the defense really stepped up in this one which was needed because the offense struggled to score. Playing tighter in coverage benefited the pass rush and helped to create three turnovers, two of which resulted in defensive scores.

The defense will need to continue to perform at this level as the Bengals get ready to play the Steelers, the Chiefs, the Buccaneers, and the Saints in the coming weeks.