Following a 34-27 victory over Cleveland, concerns are rising quickly around the Bengals defense. A unit that ranked seventh in the NFL and returned almost all the major pieces as well as the defensive coordinator from 2011 is suddenly ranked 30th in the NFL through two weeks.
What's wrong? More importantly for coach Marvin Lewis, how does his team fix it?
Lewis pinpointed six explosive plays (more than 20 yards) that allowed Browns QB Brandon Weeden and company to hang around as the Bengals offense ran up points. Another 11 plays gained between 10 and 19 yards. The Bengals gave up 20 plays of 10 yards or more against Baltimore. That means 31 percent of opponents plays this year gained at least 10 yards. That's not good.
“We need to play more consistent and we need to play better,” Marvin Lewis said. “We had some wonderful plays, but we didn’t tackle the football very well in the open field. We didn’t execute a few times in coverage, which really hurt us.”
Taking a look at those six explosive plays offers a deeper look at why this defense is struggling. Here's a breakdown of each play and what went wrong:
Trent Richardson 32-yard touchdown run
The situation: Second quarter, 8:15 remaining, first and 10, Ball on Bengals 32
The play: A standard draw up the middle to Richardson. Defensive tackles Domata Peko and Geno Atkins were both turned to open the hole for Richardson with Cleveland center Alex Mack squaring up on the primary tackler in the hole, Rey Maualuga. Maualuga is able to shed the block, but only a quick burst outside and missed tackle by Maualuga allows Richardson to break contain to the outside. Neither Terence Newman nor Nate Clements could shed the blocks of receivers in time to get a hand on Richardson blowing around the corner. Safety Jeromy Miles took a poor angle and ended up caught behind Newman and Clements as Richardson made his way to the end zone.
Primary culprit: Maualuga. That's his tackle to make as Richardson runs directly at him.
Assist: Miles. As the last line of defense he must do a better job of keeping Richardson within range.
Chris Ogbonnaya 21-yard reception
The situation: Second quarter, 3:54 remaining, third and 7, Cleveland 22
The play: The Browns send three wide and the tight end down the field leaving the middle wide open for RB Obbonnaya to run a route one-on-one against Maualuga. He starts to the outside and turns to the middle and leaves Maualuga a yard behind. With nothing but green in front of him, the back ends up running for 21 yards before CB Terence Newman comes up and pops the ball loose with a big hit. The Bengals recovered, but the turnover doesn't mask the exploitation of Maualuga's pass defense.
Primary culprit: Maualuga. That's his coverage. The play is set up to test him and one-on-one can be difficult, but, again, that's his coverage.
Trent Richardson 23-yard touchdown reception
The situation: Third quarter, 0:20 remaining, first and 10, Cincinnati 23-yard line
The play: Weeden drops back against a Bengals blitz and with little pressure getting through he decides to dump off to Richardson who doesn't have a defender within 15 yards. By the time they do converge inside the 10-yard line, four different Bengals miss open-field tackles. Leon Hall, Maualuga and Miles each whiff in the open field in one form or another. Nate Clements jumps on late attempting to strip the ball, but fails as Richardson runs into the end zone.
Primary culprit: This should be shared by the entire defense with an emphaiss on the four missed tackles.
Assist: No word on who was supposed to be covering Richardson in the flat, but nobody did.
Mohamed Massaquoi 22-yard reception
The situation: Fourth quarter, 9:25 remaining, first and 10, Browns 31
The play: Weeden drops back against a blitz which comes through cleanly as Maualuga charges and puts a hit on the rookie QB, however, he was able to let go a strike over the hand of Nate Clements to Massaquoi streaking over the middle leaving CB Terence Newman behind in coverage. Newman wasn't close enough to have a hand on the WR once he caught it and rambled another eight yards.
The primary culprit: Newman. Massaquoi left him behind pretty easily. This one deserves some credit to Weeden, though, he made a difficult throw under pressure.
Greg Little 24-yard touchdown reception
The situation: Fourth quarter, 7:18 remaining, first and 10, Bengals 24
The play: Weeden drops back with three wide receivers in the route and the Bengals drop seven into a deep-zone coverage. Weeden finds Greg Little at the 5-yard line in front of Miles. Instead of charging in to break up the pass, Miles runs behind Little, apparently thinking it would be an overthrow. Little waltzes into the end zone.
The primary culprit: Miles. He took over the starting job for Taylor Mays this week, but his inexperience was exposed on this play and the Browns made him look bad.
Ben Watson 27-yard reception
The situation: Fourth quarter, 1:41 remaining, first and 10, Bengals 48
The play: Weeden drops back and hits Watson over the middle where he wins a contested catch from Clements and Maualuga, who both were in tight coverage. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, both failed to take Watson down once he pulled in the reception. Eventually Watson drags four Bengals tacklers for 13 more yards.
The primary culprit: Have to start with Maualuga and Clements, who failed to wrap up and allowed the play to jump from a 14-yard gain to an explosive 27-yarder.
About the six plays: Five of the six came on first down. Recurring culprits were Maualuga, Clements and Miles. Yet, to spread blame on any individuals wouldn't recognize the team element of defense. Whether lack of pass rush, coverage or tackling, just about everybody owns a piece of the blame.
For Lewis, the key reverts back to holding the focus on their responsibilities.
“They want to play well and they want to make plays, but we’ve just got to do it through our responsibilities and let it come to us,” Lewis said. “If it does, it will, and they’ll be in the right spot.”
Follow Paul Dehner Jr. for Bengalas updates on Twitter at @CBSBengals.