The game has been labeled as “ugly,” but there’s an argument to be made against that.
In the Cincinnati Bengals’ 15-10 win over the Denver Broncos, the visiting team didn’t make as many mistakes as they’ve made in recent weeks. After committing a combined six turnovers in their last two weeks, they were safer with the ball and made sure the worst outcomes were punts. They started off wanting to attack a man-heavy defense through the air and ended up whittling them down in the run game, albeit not very effectively.
The offense simply didn’t have it all together. It was a good thing the exact opposite was true for the defense.
To be frank, the Broncos do not have a juggernaut offense, but the Bengals’ defense was a relentless and cohesive machine against them. Denver had minimal success gaining anything substantial on the ground through the first two-and-a-half quarters, and even when they were churning out some positive plays later on, they couldn’t generate any explosive runs against a stout defensive line for Cincinnati.
The linebackers played outstanding, aside from a couple mishaps in coverage, and the secondary took advantage of bad quarterback play. But It was the d-line, specifically, that head coach Zac Taylor credited for the defense’s overall success as he gave all four defensive tackles—D.J. Reader, Larry Ogunjobi, B.J. Hill, and Josh Tupou—game balls for their efforts.
Khalid Kareem is not an interior lineman, but his fourth quarter snatching of Drew Lock’s dignity earned him a game ball as well. That whimsical play is what represents the defense to Taylor, and he believes the unit has now put the NFL on notice.
“That’s our team. Everyone steps up. The defense sent the league a message today,” Taylor said after the game.
We wouldn’t be writing about a Bengals victory had the defense played anything less than how they performed Sunday afternoon. Taylor’s offense needed all the stops Lou Anarumo’s defense could gift them. But, as cliche as it sounds, that’s how you have to win sometimes. And it’s completely reasonable to think that games like this prepares them for more “ugly” games to come as the season winds down.
Much has been said about this team finding creative ways to lose of late, but before their two-game skid, they were discovering multiple ways to win. They certainly enjoyed obliterating the Ravens and Steelers with all-around clean games, but they also seemed to have embraced letting the game dictate their plan of attack. This week, it was turning to the run game and trusting their defense. At least one of them was on point.
The injury factor here is fascinating as well. For as (relatively) healthy the Bengals have been compared to other relevant teams, their defense hasn’t been free of adversity. They were down their best linebacker and cornerback in this game and suffered even more wounds during the day. No matter whom they turn to, the unit finds a way to get results time and time again. The Browns belittling them seems like an eternity ago and really sticks out as an outlier in a dominant season for that side of the ball.
Taylor has a point—the league has to put some respect on this defense by now. Their reputation, however, will be put to the test during their final three games against a revengeful Ravens, the resurgent Chiefs, and a Browns team that has had their number for the entirety of Baker Mayfield’s young career. Falling apart now would be catastrophic.
But falling apart seems to be the one thing the Bengals’ defense doesn’t do.