Bengals defense still searching for game-changing turnovers

CINCINNATI -- Joe Flacco has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals over the course of his 15-year NFL career. But the Bengals aren’t counting on the veteran quarterback delivering turnovers that have been lacking in an otherwise strong start to the season for their defense.

The Bengals (0-2) will be facing Flacco and the New York Jets (1-1) on Sunday in the Meadowlands, and it’s not a matchup they are taking lightly. The 37-year-old veteran has served as mainly a backup quarterback the past four seasons in Baltimore, Denver and New York, but so far is looking more like the player that led Baltimore to a Super Bowl championship in 2012.

Flacco is averaging 308 yards passing and has five touchdowns with just one interception, which came in a 24-9 loss to Baltimore in the opener before the Jets bounced back to beat the Browns last week.

“I see a guy who has won the Super Bowl, I see a guy who has seen everything,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “He plays with a lot of confidence. He plays with a lot of poise. He plays on time, he can make any throw that there can be made in all of football. He can still do that. Their team has probably got a lot of confidence in him because he’s been there and done that. He’s in a bit of a flow, played these last two games and you look particularly at the end of the game he was in a great rhythm throwing on time. You can see the skill guys have a lot of just in him. ... He’s a really good quarterback. He’s on a one game win streak and he’s a big part of that.”

The Bengals have had success against Flacco in the past, accounting for 17 percent of his total career interceptions with 25 picks compared to the 21 touchdowns allowed to him over 20 meetings since 2008. Flacco faced Cincinnati twice a year with the Ravens up until 2018 when Lamar Jackson took the reigns midway through the season. Flacco’s last matchup against the Bengals came in the opener that season when he threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in Marvin Lewis’ final season in Cincinnati.

Last year, it was Mike White who haunted the Bengals in a 34-31 comeback victory for the Jets, dinking and dunking his way down the field to erase a 14-point deficit as part of a 405-yard passing performance. The Bengals are expecting Flacco to take whatever their defense gives him, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said if it were him, he would be relying on short passes to the running backs because “those guys are good.”

Although Flacco has struggled at times with turnovers, he reads the game well, Anarumo said.

Cincinnati has yet to record an interception this season and are one of eight teams without a pick, despite several close chances. Vonn Bell forced the lone turnover with a strip of Dalton Schultz last week in a loss at Dallas, which D.J. Reader recovered.

Producing those game-changing plays remains a focus for the defense this week, as the Bengals try to get back to the ball-hawking defense that produced eight interceptions in four playoff games last year. They’ve done just about everything else to dig a slow-starting offense out of a hole, but Anarumo said the turnovers will come.

He said he counted four missed opportunities last week, including a tipped pass by Logan Wilson that somehow was redirected to Noah Brown on the Cowboys’ game-winning field goal drive. Another ball bounced off Sam Hubbard’s hands, Jessie Bates had one slip through his hands and Mike Hilton dropped an interception that he felt would have been a pick-6 just before halftime.

“The ball hasn’t bounced our way,” Anarumo said. “He’s (Cooper Rush) throwing the ball on the last drive, he’s throwing into where we are doubling and the ball gets batted to the other receiver. That’s football. The ball is going to bounce your way sometimes. Sometimes it is not. We just have to stick with it and this will be our biggest challenge to date. I’m quite sure we will be up to it.”

“It’s just being patient,” Bell said. “Nobody needs to get out of the frame of the defense, we just need to be poised and patient, let the game come to you, get your keys, go out there and just play fast, and turnovers will come.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Jets, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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