Before their game against the Patriots, the Bengals had arguably the best defense in the league. Then, they allowed 80 points in a seven day/2-game span, leaving plenty of questions about a unit that was previously the most reliable aspect of the team.
Bengals linebackers have had success because of their aggressiveness in attacking the line of scrimmage versus the run. However, this is also their weakness. They are too aggressive, often over-pursuing to get to ball carriers and abandoning their gap responsibilities. They often bite too hard on play-action, and this has killed them in the passing game. Emmanuel Lamur, #59, has looked especially lost in coverage. Tom Brady and Cam Newton took advantage of this in the last two games.
Big Personnel On Offense:
In Week 5, the Patriots used an up-tempo approach as well as big personnel in unconventional alignments. This kept Cincinnati linebackers on the field and caused confusion in their assignments. The Panthers didn’t take the same up-tempo approach, but they did use lots of 2 and 3-tight end sets to keep linebackers on the field. They then took advantage of their over aggressiveness in the passing game.
More Struggles vs the Run:
The Patriots racked up 220 rushing yards in Week 5 against the Bengals with a power running game that blew Cincinnati off the ball. The Panthers didn’t quite have that same type of success. Their effectiveness in the running game came via Cam Newton. The Panthers used him on the usual zone reads, but they also ran him on quarterback powers with success. Again, Bengals linebackers didn’t maintain gap integrity, which created lots of open running lanes. Newton took advantage to the tune of 107 rushing yards.
Blitzes Not Hitting Home:
Against the Patriots, the Bengals weren’t able to blitz like they normally do because of New England’s approach. Against the Panthers, on the other hand, the Bengals were able to bring the house frequently, including their staple double-A-gap blitzes. The pressure rarely got to Newton, though. This left the Bengals’ linebackers and secondary vulnerable, and this has been one of the biggest issues with Cincinnati’s defense. Their linebackers and secondary aren’t great in coverage. They rely on their D-line and blitzes to get pressure, which forces quick, ill-advised throws. When the pressure doesn’t get there, they become exposed.
Heading into their bye week at 3-0 the Bengals looked like they would run away with the AFC North. Now, all four teams in the division look like legitimate contenders, and there is still plenty of time left in the season. Cincinnati needs to figure out how to fix their once dominant defense if they want to have any chance of even reaching the playoffs.