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Bengals get mixed results from linebackers in Week 1

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After being tested by the Colts, the Bengals' linebacking corps shows room for improvement.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have a lot of talent on defense, but their linebackers are more adept against the run than the pass. The Colts tested this unit with their pair of talented tight ends and by releasing running backs out of the backfield.

Preston Brown gets the interception on this rep — Andrew Luck’s first throw of the year — but all three Bengals linebackers look good in this zone coverage.

Jordan Evans works out with the running back in the flat on the right side. Brown works underneath Colts tight end Jack Doyle’s route, putting him in position to pick the ball off after it is deflected. Left outside linebacker Nick Vigil drops off working to the right as Luck looks in that direction.

At the top of the screen, Vigil runs with the wheel route, which is generally a rule for linebackers covering the flat. This opens up the flat for tight end Eric Ebron. Brown is basically being blocked by tight end Jack Doyle, who released vertically into him. Brown does a good job of accelerating and getting to Ebron based on the situation, but Ebron gets to the corner.

If it was a speedy receiver instead of a tight end running the route, this could have been a much bigger play.

The next clip is a Cover 1 look, which you can tell because safety Clayton Fejedelem rocks down and safety Jessie Bates plays the deep middle field as the “center fielder”. This is in their nickel package, so Vigil and Brown are the only linebackers on the field.

Vigil is responsible for Ebron who is lined up in the slot at the bottom of the screen and Brown is responsible for the running back. Ebron runs a drag across the formation and the back releases to the defenses right.

This essentially creates a pick between Vigil and Brown. Brown is patient with it and accelerates to match up with the back once Vigil has cleared. Vigil has to hustle to make up for lost ground, but he is able to close as the ball is getting to Ebron and make the tackle short of the first down.

Here, the Bengals are in Cover 2 Man also known as man under. In this defense, the linebackers and cornerbacks are playing man coverage with inside leverage and the safeties are playing deep half field coverage providing help deep and to the outside.

The best of the group is Hardy Nickerson at the top who maintains correct position underneath the slot receiver on the top of the screen. Brown gives up too much ground to Doyle and Evans does the same with Ebron.

Fejedelem is playing over the top of both routes. He stays tight near Doyle’s route and as a result Ebron is wide open on the corner route. Both Brown and Evans need to be able to run with tight ends of this caliber.

The Bengals are once again in Cover 2 Man here. This time, they are in a nickel package with Vigil and Nickerson lined up in the box and cornerback Darqueze Dennard lined up over the slot receiver.

Vigil does a good job of matching up with the running back who check releases (looks to pass block first, then gets into the route because no one blitzes). Nickerson out-runs Doyle and when the tight end cuts, he subsequently finds himself out of position.

Nickerson should be underneath and inside Doyle, because if he were, he would be in position to make a play on this ball rather than the tackle.

The Bengals are once again in a nickel look here and with Vigil blitzing, Brown is the only linebacker in coverage. He has a matchup up with Colts running back Nyheim Hines, and as the back releases to the bottom of the screen, Brown overpursues. This allows the back to cut back inside of him.

As a result, Brown is not in position and when Luck throws the ball to Hines, he is able to turn a two-yard completion into a 17 yard gain.

This is how underneath coverage should look. Luck checks down to his back who makes the catch, but both Vigil and Brown break on the ball. Vigil gets there first and makes the tackle for a short gain.


With the NFL’s current trend of throwing the ball to backs out of the backfield and using tight ends heavily in the pass game, it is vital for linebackers to be skilled in pass coverage. The Bengals’ linebacker unit showed some positives, but they will need to improve to compete against the league’s top offenses.

Obviously, they are much better equipped when Vontaze Burfict is out there at WILL linebacker, but there are three more games until the Bengals get him back. In the meantime, Evans and Vigil will be on the field defending the pass on third-down, and were a part of the 11 third-down conversions the Bengals defense gave up against the Colts.

Most of those conversions came on passes over the middle of the field, which is something the Bengals defense has to get much better at stopping going forward.