Where Must the Cincinnati Bengals Defense Improve?
After a tough loss to the Chicago Bears this past Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals look to right the ship against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2 on Monday Night Football. Looking back at the Bengals' 24-21 loss this past Sunday, there were some positive takeaways, but along with them came indications of much-needed improvements.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had a very revealing stat line against the Bengals. Cutler completed 21-of-33 attempts for 242 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 93.2.
The question is this: How did a quarterback who only posted an 81.3 passer rating in 2012 deliver such an impressive performance while learning a new scheme?
The answer is rather simple.
Chicago focused on getting the ball out of Cutler's hands and into the arms of his targets very quickly using short, high-percentage throws—something the Bengals offense is very familiar with.
How was Chicago able to pull this off with so much success against the Bengals?
Simply put, the Bears targeted Cincinnati's linebackers.
It is not a secret that the Bengals' linebackers struggle in coverage. In fact, it is the weakest point of Vontaze Burfict's skill set. After Week 1, Burfict received a negative-0.3 grade in coverage—ranking him 13th out of 23 eligible outside linebackers—by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Chicago realized this going into the game and used it to their advantage.
One particular play that highlighted the ineptitude of Burfict and the Bengals in coverage came in the first quarter on 3rd-and-17—a down and distance that should easily get the defense off the field.
The Bengals defense is running a zone blitz here—they blitz five and drop six into coverage. Take a look at the right side of the field. Leon Hall will drop back in the deep zone while Terence Newman covers Earl Bennett on the outside. This gives the Bears the matchup they want—Burfict on Brandon Marshall (right slot):
Once the ball is snapped, Bennett takes off up the right sideline, taking Newman and Hall with him. This leaves Burfict one-on-one with Marshall underneath. Burfict is late getting into position and Marshall uses his speed to take advantage of the coverage:
By the time Burfict gets to his man he is out of position. His back is to the quarterback and his hips are turned completely away from the middle of the field. This opens up a big soft spot in coverage for Marshall:
Marshall easily runs past Burfict, who gets completely spun around. The reception is made and the gap in coverage is big enough to gain 18 yards and a first down:
Now, watch the play in its entirety:
That play extended a drive that ended in seven points for the Bears. Cutler was able to pick apart the Bengals linebackers throughout the entire contest in that same manner.
This week, the Bengals take on the Steelers and offensive coordinator Todd Haley's West Coast scheme. Pittsburgh is currently hurting due to injuries and will look to find an area of the Bengals defense that they can exploit to make up for their own deficiencies.
Haley, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have surely looked at this footage and should attempt to manhandle the Bengals defense in the same manner as the Bears.
Cincinnati must find a way to mask this issue going forward or it this could be an ongoing trend for the remainder of the 2013 season.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.
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