Bengals on pace for a historically bad defense

CINCINNATI -- Jordan Evans' eyes widened when he heard the number.


That's how many yards the Cincinnati Bengals gave up in a 37-34 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Evans said he remembered looking up at the scoreboard at one point and being shocked to see how many yards they had given up.

"Sheesh," Evans said.

"Obviously that's disappointing when you give up that much, but you've got to take what's good and then learn from the bad," he added. "Obviously a good win, we'll look at the film on this week and get better."

The problem is that the Bengals haven't been getting better on defense, and 576 isn't the only number the Bengals should be worrying about.

The number of yards the Bengals are currently on pace to give up this season, 7,164, is far more alarming. That number would break the record set by the 2012 Saints defense, which gave up 7,042 yards.

The Bengals defense is floundering, and it's hard to say exactly why. Their performance made it hard for players to completely enjoy the win.

“It’s great to get a win, even though we need to get better on defense. We gave up a thousand yards on defense today," linebacker Preston Brown said.

They've given up an average of 536 yards and 35.6 points in the past three games. Their total defense is last in the league, while their scoring defense ranks 29th.

Injuries are one issue. The team went from relatively healthy to shorthanded fairly quickly. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Nick Vigil have been out since the Steelers game three weeks ago, Vontaze Burfict didn't play against the Buccaneers, and Carl Lawson suffered a torn ACL on Sunday. That's not to mention the injuries other players are battling.

But there's something broken with Teryl Austin's defense. Players have mentioned missed assignments all season in losses, and it's hard to say if it's a focus issue, a personnel issue, an inability to understand Austin's defense, or all of the above.

The Bengals gave up two plays of at least 60 yards against the Buccaneers. One was a 60-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in the second quarter. William Jackson was covering DeSean Jackson and was trailing him by several steps. Right before DeSean Jackson ran into the end zone, William Jackson slowed and looked back as if he was waiting on safety help.

On another play, a 72-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans, no Bengals defensive player was even in the general area. Players were wide open at times, which would indicate blown coverages, although Bengals safety Shawn Williams said that wasn't the case on those plays.

“There was no miscommunication. They made a play," Williams said. "They beat the coverage. If you want to stop every route, play Cover 0. There’s holes in every coverage. There’s no miscommunication.”

Missed tackles were a consistent issue in a blowout loss to the Chiefs the week before, and while it wasn't nearly as bad Sunday as it was in that loss, they continued to be a problem at times.

It's no wonder Bengals coach Marvin Lewis had a lot to say about the defensive problems after the game.

"Guys have to do their job, plain and simple," he said. "I don’t know how long those touchdown passes were today, but I know they were far. And then we gave up leverage on third down twice. We let a guy scramble there at the end. Those are things you can’t do. I don’t care who you’re playing against, you’re going to lose football games in the NFL if you get out of leverage and everything. We’re doing it with young guys, and we’ve got some other guys that are not as young, and we’ve got to figure out a way to do it. We’ve got to play better in the secondary. We’ve got to continue to play better up front on the offensive front and play through the third quarter and the fourth quarter. It goes around. We’ve got to get the quarterback on the ground when we get the opportunity.”

He added: “They’re trying to do too much at times. They’re trying to get out of their job to do something else. Just do your job first and everything will happen. Everything will fit together. You don’t have to (do everything). Make sure you understand the urgency of what (your) responsibility is on this particular play -- plain, flat and simple, that’s what it is. Just do (your) particular job with the urgency on this particular play, and let the other guys work and understand it ...

"This is the NFL. You’ve got 11 new things every play. Every play, the other team comes out with new formations and new coverage, you’ve got to continue to adjust. It’s how you become great. Young players have to mature quickly and get it right, and everybody’s got to stay on the same page. That’s part of it.”

Rookie safety Jessie Bates referenced "the details" several times and said the team needed to put together a full game.

"First three quarters, we played very well, and that last quarter kind of sucked for the defense," he said. "I really think it's just the details. We've got to focus more on the details and not only play for three quarters, but we have to put a whole four quarters together."

Bates used the tackling issue as an example, saying there was so much emphasis on fixing that part of the problem that other problems cropped up this week.

"We focus on tackling. 'You guys gotta tackle better this week, you've got to tackle better,' and the next thing we know, we're blowing some small coverage that we learned Day 1," he said. "So I think the details, like I said, we need to continue to put that all together for four quarters."

The Bengals might have the bye to recharge, but they don't exactly have time to waste. They'll host the Saints next, a team that averages 33.4 points per game. If they know how to fix the defense, it needs to be done quickly.

"This team ain't broke," cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. "The defense ain't broke. It's something we've got to get fixed. If it's broke, it ain't going to play. We're going to play."