Injuries and strife plague Bengals' defense as Burrow stars
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals defense is in disarray, on the field and off.
Multiple injuries to key personnel and an inability to shut the door on teams are glaring reasons the Bengals keep losing close games and are stuck at 1-5-1 as another dismal season approaches the midway point.
Internal strife hasn't helped. Aging sack specialists Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap — who will make about $25 million between them this season — are unhappy with their reduced roles in coordinator Lou Anarumo's defense. Both were in for just a dozen snaps each in Sunday's loss to the Browns.
Dunlap argued with Anarumo on the sideline, and after the game, while his teammates were facing reporters on Zoom, took to Twitter to announce he was ,, presumably because he expects to be traded. Other defensive players also have used social media to express displeasure about the way things are going.
“We just handle that internally,” coach Zac Taylor said. “We got a group of guys in the locker room who want so badly to do things the right way and get this to where we want to be.”
Cincinnati spent big in the free agent market, signing six big-time defensive players to help shore up the unit, including a four-year, $53 million deal for defensive tackle D.J. Reader. He was lost for the season with a quad injury in the Oct. 11 loss to the Ravens. Cornerback Trae Waynes (pectoral), who got a three-year, $42 million deal, also is out for the season.
Also missing is reliable defensive end Sam Hubbard (elbow). Atkins missed the first four games with a shoulder injury and has played sparingly since. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels played in the loss to Browns after missing several weeks with an elbow injury.
Starting cornerback William Jackson III was out with a concussion Sunday as Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield picked apart the Cincinnati secondary and threw a touchdown pass to win the game with 15 seconds left. He wasn't sacked in the game.
Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow has revitalized Cincinnati's passing game and given the franchise hope for the future. Against the Browns he threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns, only to be outdueled by Mayfield. It was his fifth game with 300 or more yards passing. The Bengals reached the red zone on seven drives, tying the franchise record since the NFL began tracking drive stats in 2000.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Everything on defense. Cincinnati has yielded 194 points in seven games.
Burrow is spreading the ball efficiently. Against Cleveland, Tyler Boyd, his top target, made 11 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. Veteran A.J. Green had seven receptions for 82 yards, and Tee Higgins added five for 71 yards and a score. Giovani Bernard, replacing the injured Joe Mixon at running back, caught five for 59 yards and a score.
The running game without Mixon, who has a foot injury and whose status is uncertain for the near future. Bernard gained just 37 yards on 13 carries against Cleveland.
The offensive line has been a weak spot that Burrow has learned to work around. Then center Trey Hopkins (concussion), left tackle Jonah Williams (neck) and right tackle Bobby Hart (knee) left the Browns game with injuries at various points and didn’t return.
5 — games decided by five points or less in the first seven.
The Bengals are not going to get a break any time soon. After they host the Titans (5-1) this week, they travel to Pittsburgh to play the surging Steelers, currently the league's only unbeaten team at 6-0.
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