The Eagles beat the Browns by a mere point last week and Philly would have lost if Cleveland linebacker L.J. Fort didn’t drop a potential clinching interception with less than two minutes to go.
The Bengals beat the Browns by seven points this week and it never felt like a Cincinnati win was in serious jeopardy.
So what’s the problem?
Simply put, it’s impossible not to be concerned about the Bengals defense after two games.
Six days after allowing 430 totals yards in the lopsided loss at Baltimore, Cincinnati allowed 439 yards to a Cleveland team that had foundered offensively (210 yards, 0 TD) the week before.
“We’re a little shaky,” said linebacker Rey Maualuga. “We’re very hard on ourselves. We don’t like giving up that many points to any team. It’s the NFL — every team is good, despite their record. All we can do is keep practicing and trying to get better week in week out.”
The Bengals were unable to get significant pressure on rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden who went 26-for-37 for 322 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT. After posting an anemic quarterback rating of 5.1 in his NFL debut, the 28-year-old rookie raised it by nearly 100 points against Cincinnati to 114.9.
“We were hoping that he could rattle him,” said linebacker Manny Lawson. “We were hoping that if we could get around his feet or got close to him, that he would start overthrowing people or come out of the pocket. He showed a lot of poise in the pocket and he made all the throws. They ran an offense that he can handle and he did a really good job.”
Then there’s rookie Trent Richardson who served notice that he is going to be a twice-a-year nightmare for the Bengals in the Battle of Ohio. After gaining 39 yards on 19 carries against Philadelphia, the former Alabama star finished with 109 yards on 19 carries vs. Cincinnati, and added 36 receiving yards on 4 receptions.
“That guy runs very hard and he’s elusive,” said linebacker Vinny Rey. “I was looking for him after the game to pay my respect.”
In fairness to the Bengals, they are playing shorthanded on defense. They should get their best pass rusher Carlos Dunlap back from a knee injury as soon as next week, and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Jason Allen are making progress from their injuries. But Cincinnati will clearly miss linebacker Thomas Howard — their leading tackler from last year — who is out for the season after hurting his knee at practice on Wednesday.
“At first (Howard’s injury) was very shocking,” said Rey. “But we realized that we would have to replace him by committee. You don’t replace a guy that makes that many plays and takes that many snaps with one guy – at least in that week.”
“We’ve got some guys playing that we didn’t necessarily know would be playing when we got started, but they are and we’re going to have to coach them and make them better,” said Marvin Lewis. “Everybody is going to have to play better. When you’ve got young guys getting in and playing for the first time, other guys have to play better around them. Defensively I think that’s what we have to focus on right now.”
The Bengals still have most of the key players back from the NFL’s seventh-ranked defense last year along with one of the league’s top defensive coordinators in Mike Zimmer. They’re bound to get better right?
“Last year is last year and what we have to do is keep on moving,” said Lawson. “We have to watch the film, learn from our mistakes, and get ready for the next game.”
And while Cleveland’s offensive output leaves the Bengals looking for answers on defense, at least they’ll conduct the search from a first-place tie in the AFC North with Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
“I’m happy to come out of this with a win,” said Rey. “We know as a defense that we have to play better. I know that I have to play better. But a win is a win. We’re going to learn from this and then we are going to move on.”
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