Here comes your dose of cold water, Bengals fans.
Call it nitpicking if you would like, especially in such a dominant win, but the Cincinnati Bengals' defense had a tough time tackling the St. Louis ball-carriers on initial contact. Some of it is expected with some exciting Rams weapons on the roster in the form of Tavon Austin and Todd Gurley, but against many other teams, this issue could have led to a much closer contest.
Now, let's be honest, aside from this issue, all three phases of Cincinnati's attack played well on Sunday, and with the defense grabbing three interceptions, a sack and allowance of just seven points, they largely dominated St. Louis. I'm merely pointing out a frustration and worry for future contests. In fact, check out some information our own Josh Kirkendall supplied via Twitter:
Gurley was held to just 19 yards on nine carries and the Rams had under 100 team rushing yards. St. Louis had a frustrating knack of escaping would-be Bengals tacklers to turn big losses into minimal gains and what should have been short-yardage plays into a rare big pop.
Let's take a look at a play from the Rams' opening drive, on second down. The St. Louis game plan, aside from feeding Gurley, was to make life easy on Nick Foles with short throws where his guys could possibly get extensive yards after the catch. Austin would be the focal point of the plan. On second down, he took a pass behind the line of scrimmage and was seemingly squared up by safety George Iloka. The veteran safety had his arms around Austin, but the slippery wideout avoided a tackle and made it a third and one.
Ironically, one play later, Iloka stopped Gurley in the backfield to force a punt. On St. Louis' second possession, they moved the ball a little bit and one play was particularly frustrating. It was one of those plays where solid effort from one unit and poor execution from the opposition nets yardage when it should have been a loss. A gang of tacklers met Gurley, yet somehow he slipped away and turned it into a four-yard gain.
Again, it's nitpicking, given the team's 31-7 lead as the fourth quarter drew near, but laziness, possible fatigue and poor form led to other plays of positive yardage that should not have netted anything. On a second and nine with almost 12 minutes to play in the third quarter, Foles threw a familiar screen pass to Austin. The ever-shifty No. 11 made a play that was well-defended, turning what should have been about a seven-yard loss into a seven-yard gain. Rey Maualuga, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Dre Kirkpatrick all missed opportunities to bring down Austin prior to where he was finally stopped.
Backup running back Tre Mason was made grounds with a swing pass late in the third quarter. The defense likely began to hit cruise control a little bit, but poor efforts late in the game popped up. Mason took the pass and scooted past both Kirkpatrick and Shawn Williams for a first down conversion.
The defensive unit played well as a whole. Foles was often flustered, overall yardage was low and three interceptions forced always spells a good day. However, poor tackling has been a bit of an issue for the Bengals' defense throughout the year. With Geno Atkins back to his All-Pro form and Vontaze Burfict returning from the PUP list, many believed those issues would be remedied. Atkins and Burfict have definitely helped, but evidence of problems could be seen against St. Louis, regardless of the outcome.
It may be digging deep to find a sole issue, but, this cannot continue as the year winds down and the playoffs near.