This year, Matthew Sottile and I will break down the opposing team’s defense in our weekly scouting report. Like last year, I will be looking at the opposing team in a more broad, scheme-approach. Matthew will have a closer eye on the individual players.
Today, the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Bengals’ Front Seven
Like the offense, the defense is relatively unchanged. The run defense has fallen off though and surprisingly, is closing in on the bottom of the league.
They’ve given up 43 runs of 10+ yards, tied for 6th worst in the NFL. Nine of those have gone for 20+, which is tied for eighth. And overall, their 4.5 YPC is tied for 4th worst.
It’s not like they’ve lost a lot of pieces either. If anything, they’ve gained with Vontaze Burfict’s return. But up front, the pieces remain mostly the same. A deep defensive line who will rotate as much as anyone though Michael Johnson – their right defensive end – and Carlos Dunlap – their left defensive end – play about 78% of the time each.
Backing them up are Will Clarke and Margus Hunt though Hunt’s play has been reduced out recently. Clarke is their chess piece, who’ll play either end spot and kick inside. They’ve actually brought Wallace Gilberry back, he didn’t play at all against the Cleveland Browns last week, but Clarke is the new guy in that wear-multiple-hats role.
Inside is Geno Atkins, who no matter what, will always be that three tech on the guard’s outside shoulder. All day. You know where he’ll be but that doesn’t make him easier to block. Domata Peko will start next to him but Pat Sims has played a good bit, too. I’m a big fan of Sims; a classic space eater along the interior who will demand double-teams.
The new face to the group is #69, DeShawn Williams, a rookie out of Clemson. He’ll play the one or three tech depending on the shift of the front. Nothing too noticeable in talent but he’s the new face to the club.
In their base 4-3, Burfict plays the SAM, Rey Maualuga the MIKE, and Karlos Dansby the WILL. Their nickel sets are always interesting and hard to get a read on. They rotate guys around.
Burfict will always be one of the linebackers but there’s a rotation at the other spot. Most often it’s Vincent Rey, #57, but I’ve seen Dansby in there and last week, even rookie Nick Vigil (#59).
It looks like on any down blocks to the playside, the Bengals will scrape the LB over. Something to keep in mind when the Steelers run their counter trey.
Sack-wise, they have 25 of them, with 21 coming from the defensive line. Dunlap has seven while Atkins has 6.5. Other note on Dunlap which just boggles the mind. He has 14 pass deflections this season, using that rare length to bat down passes at the LOS. That leads the entire Bengals’ team and is tied for ninth in the entire NFL. That’s everyone, linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks. The have stupid-good length along that front and will disrupt a lot of throw lanes. It’s an annoyance.
Overall, the pass defense is much better than they are against the run. They’re a ball-hawking group, their 15 interceptions tied for the second-most in the league, despite no one player has more than three. So it’s coming from a ton of different sources.
Adam Jones is at RCB with Dre Kirkpatrick opposite. George Iloka and Shawn Williams make up a solid safety duo. It’s Jones and Iloka leading the charge with those three interceptions each.
Have seen two bodies inside at the slot. Josh Shaw and Darqueze Dennard.
The Bengals have allowed only 37 passes of 20+ yards, tied for the 6th least. They’re a little worse off in 40+, tied for 13th with seven, but still a pretty good mark. They’re allowing just 6.8 yards per attempt, tied for the seventh best mark in the league.
All to say the Bengals’ secondary is pretty good.
Overall, the third down defense has been below average, 12th worst in the NFL, and the red zone defense close to terrible. Eighth worst with opposing offenses finding the end zone on 60.5% of their trips. For the Steelers, it’s a big positive.
Scheme wise, you’re going to get a lot of two high looks. Whether it’s Cover 2 or two man, they like to protect against the deep ball. It makes sense when you look at the numbers. Below average run defense (seven man boxes) but not a lot of big passes allowed.
As we wrote about before, it’s imperative to get the run game going to try and draw the Bengals out of their two high shell and open up the big play.
Paul Guenther is one of my favorite defensive coordinators and even though the Steelers have seen the defense many times, it’s still a headache to gameplan for. He’ll bluff a lot of pressures, lining players up in each gap and then dropping, or bluff one guy and drop, or bluff everyone and bring someone off the line.
I even saw what looks identical to Dick LeBeau’s/Keith Butler’s Storm Fire Zone last week versus the Browns. Take a look and decide.
Bengals’ Special Teams
Shaw and Dennard were gunners last week. The punt team has a couple of offensive pieces. TE/H-Back Ryan Hewitt is the left wing and TE Tyler Kroft is the left guard. RB Cedric Peerman in the upback. At right wing is rookie safety Clayton Fejedelem. So gotta be aware of any fake because of all those offensive players.
Punter/holder Kevin Huber has never thrown a pass, though.
Matthew’s Individual Report
After a relatively subdued first visit from the rivaled Bengals, the Steelers travel to Paul Brown Stadium for round 2- this time, however, the ever controversial Vontaze Burfict will be in uniform after missing the last clash because of a suspension he picked up for his hit on Antonio Brown in last year’s wildcard matchup. This game is sure to bring with it some fireworks; the Bengals would love nothing more than to play spoiler and dent the Steelers’ playoff chances with a win.
The defensive line has been anchored, to say the least, by their two defensive stars in Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Via Profootballfocus, both players have had pro bowl caliper type seasons- both have played incredibly well against the run, and have played even better in the pass-rushing category. They’ve each accumulated 8 & 7 sacks respectively, and a combined 26 quarterback hits, 70 (yes, 70) hurries, and 39 stops.
Did I mention that they’ve only recorded 10 missed tackles throughout 14 weeks? They’re monsters, and it makes it all the more impressive when you take into consideration the struggles both Michael Johnson and Domata Peko have been experiencing.
Take a look below to see what I mean- Atkins treats offensive linemen like rag dolls. Lining up over the right guard Jonathan Cooper, he stunts inside to meet Cameron Erving. He throws Erving to the side, fills the gap and makes the tackle- textbook from Atkins. He swallows the ball carrier for no gain. Although the Steelers’ line have been playing well, they’ll have to work together and keep their heads on a swivel because of the speed and tenacity both Atkins and Dunlap bring to the table.
While Johnson has held his own against the run, Peko has been getting run over game in, and game out. Considering this will be the first time this group will be seeing the red-hot Le’Veon Bell and company, I’d say his luck is about to get a lot worse.
It’s the lack of influence Peko sometimes illustrates on the field, as he recorded nothing against the Baltimore Ravens during their week 12 clash- 41 defensive snaps, and nothing. This doesn’t mean he was doing the nit-and-gritty stuff, either- he was getting swallowed up consistently and had very little impact throughout those 40+ snaps.
While Rey Maualuga anchors the group of linebackers, the heart and soul of this defense starts and ends with Vontaze Burfict. Since returning from suspension, he’s recorded 613 defensive snaps, and has been a man on a mission- with this game more than likely circled on his calendar as motivation. He’s used his 6’1” 248 pound frame to his advantage, recording 10+ tackles in 4 of his last 5 contests.
Over that same 5 game span, he’s also recorded 24 at or behind the LOS. How he handles Bell’s momentum, agility, power and speed will be interesting, if he can keep his emotions in check. He’ll also be gunning to get under the skin of the offensive line, which will be yet another test for this group who’ve shown so much promise throughout the season.
You can see the level he’s playing at below. Burfict, number 55, is quick to read the inside handoff- a testament to his agility and instincts. He breaks on the ball carrier, finds the hole before Duke Johnson Jr. can make a move, and attacks- downhill, direct, and potent. The play went for only 2 yards, which could have been a lot more had he not diagnosed it as quickly as he did, or perhaps missed the tackle.
The aforementioned Maualuga has struggled to say the least against the run, something that’s been rather reoccurring throughout his 8 year career. This year, however, is slated to be his worst one. Looking at two run-heavy offenses in the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins (which great running backs/offense lines), Maualuga had his worst games. There’s no telling how much he could struggle on Sunday with the red-hot running attack of the Steelers.
The third and final linebacker is Karlos Dansby. He’s played well against the run, but has demonstrated struggles in the pass rushing category and in the air- actually, he ranks dead last on the team in pass coverage, routinely getting beat by tight ends and running backs alike. Again, the duel threat Bell could have another wild day against these ‘backers, if they do in fact continue the trend of struggles.
Look for the offensive line to get to the second level and eat these guys for lunch.
The secondary has its fair share of controversial players, as Steelers fans know all too well the likes of Adam Jones and company. How has he faired since their last meeting in week 2? Up and down, to say the least. No consistency, as you’re not really sure the type of player you’re going to get any given Sunday. Sure, he’s always going to be emotional and bring the heat, but in regards to play, it’s a toss up. He is by no means a shut down corner, but he does enough to warrant consideration from an offense.
Although Robert Griffin did in fact play rusty, Jones allowed only 1 reception on 2 total targets for 4 yards. It’ll be interesting to see how he fairs against this two-headed offense Sunday afternoon.
Dre Kirkpatrick has recovered from his horrible first 8 weeks of the season, to put together a respectable campaign. His last 5 games have shown promise, with his best game coming against the New York Giants, allowing only 4 receptions on 8 targets for 17 yards and an interception. He does, however, lead the team with 12 missed tackles. After Ben Roethlisberger’s sloppy performance against the Bills, let’s hope Kirkpatrick reverts back to his first 8 weeks style of play.
Safeties Shawn Williams and George Iloka are the ying to the other’s yang. Williams, playing the strong safety position, is usually inside the box for run support-but don’t let that fool you, as Iloka is essentially their version of a Mike Mitchell. He too, is a hard hitting. That being said, Iloka has been struggling against the run, as Williams has been struggling in the air. Neither can handle the Steelers’ offense if all the pieces of the puzzle fall into the place; if the linebackers can’t handle the running of Bell, expect a long day for these two.
Kevin Huber has punted 62 balls thus far, for an average of 46.1 yards with a long of 72. Eighteen of those have landed inside the 20 yard line, with 30 being returned. Conversely, opponents have punted 66 times for an average of 45.0 with a long of 66 yards. Twenty-eight of those have landed within the 20, with 29 being returned. The Bengals have turned those 29 returns into an average of 7.4 with a long of 24 and no touchdowns. Opponents have turned their 30 returns into an average of 9.8 with a long of 28.