The NFL season is a battle of attrition, and injuries are starting to mount for the Cincinnati Bengals. Fortunately, they have done a good job of building depth and got some strong performances out of their backups this weekend.
The linebacker group has been hit hard by injuries. Logan Wilson was having a phenomenal season, prior to his injury. With Akeem Davis-Gaither already hurt, Joe Bachie got the nod in place of Wilson. He did some nice things against Denver, but then the injury bug struck again, and Bachie left the field with a torn ACL.
Waiting in the wings was Markus Bailey. His own injuries and a deep core of young linebackers has made it hard for Bailey to get a shot on defense, but when he got his chance last weekend, he was ready.
Let’s take a look at some Bengals who were called upon to play a larger-than-usual role against the Denver Broncos.
Markus Bailey scrapes pic.twitter.com/mqsZrbdSNI— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 21, 2021
Here, the runner takes the ball wide to the left, away from Bailey (51). Bailey rips by the guard’s attempted block and runs all the way to the sideline to make the tackle.
This was a fantastic play and shows that Bailey has the speed to make plays all over the field.
Markus Bailey gets off the block for the cutback pic.twitter.com/TbWVG5nvlf— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 21, 2021
As this play develops, he keeps his eyes in the backfield. When the running back cuts back, Bailey disengages from the guard’s block and makes the tackle.
These are excellent plays that you certainly don’t expect out of a backup. If he can keep making plays like this, Bailey will push for a starting role, even when the Bengals’ linebacker room is fully healthy.
Markus Bailey covers the crosser pic.twitter.com/4SeNngCnsC— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 21, 2021
He’s also exceptional in pass coverage.
Watch how he finds the crosser on this boot without even looking for him. Recognizing the play, he drops under the tight end’s route, tacking away the throw.
Bailey is a complete player, who can cover, blitz, or play the run. He looked extremely impressive against the Broncos. If he can keep this up, the combination of Bailey and Germaine Pratt will keep this defense playing at an extremely high level.
Jackson Carman and Fred Johnson block this guy into another zip code pic.twitter.com/HeO5xjkYpg— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 20, 2021
If there is one area the Bengals seemingly can’t afford an injury, it is the offensive line. They have some talented depth, but they lack experienced depth.
With both Riley Reiff and Isaiah Prince unavailable, Fred Johnson stepped in at right tackle. Later in the game, right guard Hakeem Adeniji was lost as well and rookie Jackson Carman took his place.
Here, this tandem of Johnson and Carman puts this defender on skates and drives him off the screen. Both Johnson and Carman are massive human beings, even for NFL offensive linemen, and they put their combined 656 pounds to work on this play. This kind of power side-by-side on the right side could provide a major boost to the run game.
Carman's punch pic.twitter.com/6Si5po1NRo— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 21, 2021
Carman gets a great punch on the defensive linemen in this clip, but it throws him a bit off balance, taking him out of position to protect the B gap.
He is extremely powerful and has the potential to be a force on the Bengals’ offensive line. His mistakes are correctable. He needs time and reps to clean up his technique.
Eli Apple pic.twitter.com/w7VUINjOvH— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 21, 2021
The Bengals did not have Trae Waynes for all of 2020, and it left them in a terrible position. Their lack of depth at the cornerback position lost them games.
This offseason they brought in Eli Apple, to improve their depth. This addition has been key this season, as Waynes has missed significant time once again. Apple was serviceable at the beginning of the season, particularly due to the league wide lack of quality cornerback depth, but since the bye week he has been very impressive. Waynes returned to make the start against Denver, but with Chidobe Awuzie on the COVID-19 reserve list, Apple was called on once again.
In this clip, Apple does an excellent job against the fade route. He stays in the receiver’s pocket, and makes a play on the ball at just the right moment.
Apple was an underrated addition who has proven himself to be quite valuable and will be a big part of this team’s success the rest of the season even if Waynes and Awuzie stay injury free.
This is an awesome play pic.twitter.com/n1DFajLy22— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 22, 2021
Not unlike the offensive line, the defensive backfield is a position where you cannot have enough quality depth. Seemingly learning their lesson from the 2020, the Bengals continued to add depth to their defensive backfield, picking up Vernon Hargreaves and Tre Flowers during the season.
Flowers got some snaps in this game and had some really nice plays. He looked good in man coverage against both tight ends and receivers, but the play above really stood out.
It is most definitely a win for the offense, but Flowers does a great job of preventing it from becoming a much bigger play.
When he sees the run action, his first thought has to be play action. After all, as a cornerback, playing the pass is his primary responsibility. Once he knows that it is a run, he has responsibly for secondary contain. He can’t just cut inside and try to make the tackle in the backfield because if he does and there will be no one outside. In that scenario, if the running back gets around him and turns up the sidelines, it will be off to the races.
Flowers engages with the receiver and holds the edge. When the running back cuts inside, Flowers gets off the block and makes the play. Who else is there getting involved in the tackle? Of course, it’s Bailey, chasing the running back down from his inside linebacker position, making the tackle and bringing this article full circle. This was not a highlight play and as previously noted, it wasn’t even a win for the defense, but it is a good example of a player knowing his role and doing his job within the defense.
December has tested the Bengals in more ways than one. This week, their ability to overcome injury faced multiple tests, but they were up for the challenge. That is a huge part of winning football games this late in the season.