Scouting Report: Bengals’ Defense Led By Solid Safety Tandem

As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Tom Mead and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Tom on the players.

Today, breaking down the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense for the final time this season.

Alex’s Scheme Report

Bengals’ Run Defense

The Bengals have had a below average unit this season. They’re allowing 4.6 YPC, tied for 23rd worst in football. Allowing a lot of big runs, too. 53 of them of 10+ yards, tied for 29th most in the league. And twelve of those have gone for 20+, which is only slightly better at tied for 26th worst. The Bengals employ a 4-3 base front, which they’ve had for years and years. But this line isn’t as good as it used to be. No Michael Johnson. No Carlos Dunlap. No Domata Peko. No Geno Atkins.

Though they’re a base 4-3 front, they can go heavy against run personnel. Extra TEs/FBs. See a 5-2 front with five true defensive linemen and two linebackers. Good way for them to hold up against the run, just as the Steelers do with say, their over front against these personnel groupings.

The Bengals’ line does a nice job flowing against zone runs. Hard to cut off the backside with reach blocks. Do a nice job creating penetration. Steelers’ backs better be ready to cut things back if the playside lane isn’t there immediately.


As I wrote in the title, they have a really impressive safety tandem in Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates. Bell is the box/run stuffer type. Terrell Edmunds’ type. Limited playmaker but supports the run well. Bates is the free safety/centerfielder. Both are finding the ball a ton. Top two leading tacklers. Bell with 96, Bates with 92.

Some other defensive stats. 22nd in scoring defense at 26 points per game. They have only allowed more than 21 points once in the last month but they’ve also played some below average offenses: Washington, the Giants, Miami, and Dallas. Cowboys scored 30 but the Bengals turned the ball over several times, one of which resulted in a defensive score. So some of these numbers are misleading.

They aren’t generating many takeaways. Just 12 all season, tied for 29th in the league. Situationally, they are below average on third down (42.9% – 23rd) and red zone (63.3% – 21st).

Bengals’ Pass Defense

Bengals are taking away shorter throws but giving up plays behind them. You can usually tell that based on their completion percentage vs YPA numbers. Top ten in lowest completion percentage allowed, 8th at 63.2%, but tied for the 22nd worst YPA at 7.4. Also given up 25 TDs, which is also tied for 22nd most. Allowing plenty of big plays in the passing game, 47 of 20+ yards, which is near the bottom of the NFL.

As we discussed in the first matchup, a lack of pressure is an obvious problem. 15 total sacks entering this week. Only the Titans have fewer. Carl Lawson remains about their only consistent source of pressure. RDE who should see plenty of Alejandro Villanueva tonight. Team leader with 4.5 sacks this season and a boatload more pressures. Only LB Jordan Evans has more than one sack this season on this team. 10.5 of their sacks come from their d-line. Zero have come from DBs, though their blitz rate isn’t super low. It’s about middle of the pack.

Bates is the team leader with three INTs. Rookie LB Logan Wilson has a pair but he won’t play tonight due to injury. No one else on this team has more than one.

To their scheme. He’s a good rule of thumb for the Bengals’ coverage choices. Against 2×2 and empty looks, they’re much more likely to play zone coverage. Against 3×1 and bunch sets, more likely to play Cover 1 man. Sometimes have the LB rob underneath instead of rushing if a back/tight end stays in.

Examples of each.

Zone vs 2×2.


Man vs 3×1.


Don’t see any strong or obvious blitz tendencies from them but they will bring a nickel corner or safety from the field or boundary.

Tom’s Individual Report

The Steelers have a chance to clinch the AFC North this week and will be facing a familiar foe.  The defensive roster is largely the same as when the played Cincinnati in week 10. They lost veteran Geno Atkins to the injured list this week with a shoulder injury by he was playing in a limited roll this year.

The defensive tackles include Mike Daniels who generally plays as the 0/1 tech. He showed very good quickness last week to split gaps and disrupt running lanes. He has good play strength and hand placement to bull rush in passing situations. Christian Covington is a 3 /4 tech defender with a high motor, a strong anchor and the play strength to shed blockers. Xavier Williams will line up all over inside with solid agility and hand placement but doesn’t get off blocks and can be moved when he doesn’t stay square. Margus Hunt will line up inside and outside has very good length and pursues well but it limited athletically and as a pass rusher. Khalil McKenzie was up last week from the practice squad has solid burst and hands but lacks lateral agility. He has good bloodlines with his father Reggie and uncle both playing in the NFL.

Great effort from Daniels (76) on this play. He beats the left tackle to the inside with quickness, stands up the tight end trying to wham block and gets in on the tackle.


Carl Lawson leads off the defensive ends and he is there most productive pass rusher. He has good quickness, hand usage, can bend around the edge and will drop into coverage. Sam Hubbard was coming back from an elbow injury in the first meeting. He diagnoses plays well, can shed blockers and pursues all over the field and has a pretty good bull rush. Amani Bledsoe was on the Covid list last week. He has good size and play strength, sets the edge well and is stronger versus the run. Khalid Kareem has good length, is strong on the edge and has adequate burst preferring power pass rushes.

Here is a bull rush by Hubbard (94) from the left side. He uses good leverage, hand placement and leg drive to push the tackle into the quarterback.


Germaine Pratt is an inside linebacker with good athleticism, smooth movements and will fill gaps as well as rush from the edge.  Josh Bynes is the other starter on the inside and he plays downfield quickly, struggles working through traffic and will probably set a career high in tackles this week despite 15 missed tackles this year. Logan Wilson is on the injury list with an ankle issue. He is used more in nickel and he’s a strong tackler, solid in coverage and can play inside and rush off the edge.  Markus Bailey is a good play processor with solid athleticism who tackles well with some pop. Jordan Evans has good athleticism, plays well in space and will blitz inside but plays with a high pad level. Akeem Davis-Gaither also plays in nickel and is very athletic with a good motor, chasing sideline to sideline and diagnoses screens well.

Here is nice play by Bynes (56) from the right side using good pad level and hand placement to stand up the tight end blocking on the edge and he gets off the block to make the tackle for a loss.


Jessie Bates III is a fun safety to watch.  He’s number two on the team in tackles and has 14 passes defensed this year.  He has good range playing deep, supports the run and is a good tackler but can get too high with his angles to the outside allowing cut back lanes. Vonn Bell plays more often in the box and is very physical in the run game, can cover tight ends and blitz as well. Veteran Shawn Williams returns from a one game suspension for stepping on a Dolphins player.  He is used sparingly in more of dimebacker role. Brandon Wilson missed the last game with a hamstring issue and may play this week. He is used in dime packages in the slot and also as a kick returner.

Bates (30) is the deep safety here and he reads the QB to undercut the in breaking route to break up the pass. If he didn’t stumble he probably gets the interception here.


William Jackson III is Cincinnati’s best corner strong in coverage and as a tackler.  He has good ball skills, good agility and willing supporting the run.  Darius Phillips came back last week after being out for six weeks with a leg injury. He has decent size, loose hips and plays the ball well with 7 pass breakups in 8 games. LeShaun Sims has started the last nine games and has good size and is a willing tackler and plays a lot in trail Man coverage. Mackensie Alexander is the slot corner.  He has good quickness playing downhill and reads screens well. Last week the Cowboys were able to beat him with out routes a couple times. Jalen Davis is the fifth corner and primarily a special team player with good quickness and fits best as slot corner.

Philips (23) is in coverage at the top of the screen.  He stays close to the receiver and then shows very good burst to get even with the receiver just before the ball gets there and then gets a hand around from behind to force the incompletion.


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