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The Bengals have a special teams problem

Lost in the excitement of a come from behind win is the issue of what’s happening with the Bengals’ special teams unit.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Elements from the Bengals’ special teams have been showing signs of strain recently. Opposing teams are gaining decent yardage on kickoff returns; blown coverage on a punt return has already led to a touchdown; there have been multiple blocks in the kicking game.

Special teams isn’t as sexy strutting on the catwalk like a scoring defense, a comeback-fueling running back, or a milestone-achieving future Hall of Fame wide receiver. You don’t need me to explain why special teams is a significant contributor for victories or landslide defeats — you’re smart football folks. It just is.

However, what we’re seeing right now is an unfavorable trend with Darrin Simmons’ crew.

  • Atlanta’s Marvin Hall returned a kickoff 53 yards, placing the Falcons at midfield. Eight plays later, Atlanta took an early 7-0 lead. Granted, special teams gave Atlanta advantageous field position; the defense struggled all game too. Hall added a 33-yarder later in the same quarter.
  • Keith Tandy blocked a Kevin Huber punt against Atlanta, giving the Falcons starting position on the Bengals’ eight-yard line — Cincinnati’s defense held, forcing Atlanta into a field goal.
  • Randy Bullock missed a 53-yarder against Carolina—perhaps this is one example that should be scratched out—he’s known more for accuracy than distance, though he did boom a 51-yarder against Miami on Sunday.

Cincinnati’s unfortunate special teams trend continued during the second quarter against Miami: Vincent Taylor blocked a field goal, Miami’s Jakeem Grant returned a punt 70 yards giving Miami a 14-0 lead with 23 seconds remaining in the first half.

Let’s start with the blocked field goal. With 3:58 remaining in the second quarter, Randy Bullock readies for a 37-yarder to crack a troublesome goose egg on the scoreboard. Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor, two powerlifting bulldozers, collide into each of Alex Redmond’s shoulders. Unable to weather the onslaught, Redmond gave ground. Vincent angled inside Redmond’s shoulder and extended his arm. Bullock’s kick smacked Taylor’s extended hand, with the football harmlessly falling back to Earth.

Fast-forward to the 40 second mark in the second quarter. Huber takes the snap and angles the 50-yard punt just beyond the 30-yard line. Jakeem Grant bolts up-field and bounces around the right edge. A pursuing Kevin Huber had no shot and Cody Core narrowly missed pushing Grant out of bounds right at the end zone. Touchdown.

“It was great blocking — great blocking from the return team,” Grant said after the game. “All the credit goes to them. They’re the reason I scored. I just hit the hole.”

In fairness to everyone, Grant is one the league’s top return-men and one of three players with a punt return for touchdown.

By this point, the Dolphins had a 14-0 lead — a 10-point swing that, had special teams converted the field goal and held Grant from scoring, should have been a 7-3 Dolphins lead. Thankfully the Bengals’ fourth quarter charge negated declining special teams production, and rendered post-game comments mute on the subject — it’s better to celebrate on Sunday and then become critical on Monday.