Bengals defense ‘trending in right direction’

Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals strong safety Shawn Williams (36) and linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals strong safety Shawn Williams (36) and linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals found a solution for containing Lamar Jackson. Now, they face a different type of quarterback that can punish them through the air.

Cincinnati (1-3-1) heads into a Week 6 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts (3-2) on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, preparing for Philip Rivers, who ranks sixth on the NFL’s all-time passing yardage list. Only two active quarterbacks are ahead of him – Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

The Bengals traditionally have struggled against mobile quarterbacks like Jackson, who they held to three yards rushing Sunday in 27-3 loss in Baltimore. They rank ninth in passing yards allowed (228.6 per game).

“Philip Rivers (has been) a great quarterback in this league for a long, long time,” Bengals defensive tackle Christian Covington said. “I know a lot of guys on this team have played against him, these coaches have played against him in the past, so already I have faith our game plan is going to be solid going into this week as far as preparation is concerned. And, not a knock against him but no, he’s not as fast as Lamar, so it’s gonna be a lot easier.”

Easier for the defensive line to track, at least. The Bengals pass rushers won’t have to try to figure out where Rivers has escaped to, like they have with some of the other quarterbacks they’ve faced this season. Rivers stays in the pocket more than Jackson, Gardner Minshew and Baker Mayfield.

Indianapolis' offensive line, which features Lakota West graduate Ryan Kelly at center, was ranked by as the best in the league entering 2020. The Colts have allowed just five sacks, ranking second behind only Green Bay’s 0.8 sacks per game allowance.

“It’s just a matter of being able to get through that offensive line that they have so we know the challenge that we have up next, and we’re looking forward to it,” Covington said.

Cincinnati will be without defensive end Sam Hubbard (elbow) on Sunday, and nose tackle D.J. Reader is out for the season with a quad injury. Mike Daniels remains out with an elbow injury as well, and Geno Atkins just came back from a shoulder problem.

Sunday could be a chance for the back end of the defense to shine.

Rivers has struggled with turnovers, including five interceptions, and that’s an area the Bengals are starting to see improvement. Logan Wilson recorded his second interception Sunday against Baltimore and Akeem Davis-Gaither nearly had one, too. The defense had two takeaways against Philadelphia two weeks ago.

Cincinnati is showing progress in all areas of the defense the last two weeks, a sign that players are adjusting to defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s schemes. The defense prevented scores in the final two minutes of each half Sunday, which is something the Bengals have struggled with all season, and cornerback Darius Phillips was a key factor in the success containing Jackson, being tasked with tracking the speedy quarterback on the perimeter Sunday and sometimes blitzing.

“He had a nice game (Sunday),” Anarumo said. “He was very disciplined on his rushes when we sent him on blitzes. One of the things we – anytime you are playing an athletic quarterback like Lamar you want to make sure you never leave your feet on his ball fakes. That’s easier said than done. Like saying don’t leave your feet when defending a jump shooter. That’s the same idea. Until you have that ball fake in your face from an elite player like Lamar it’s hard to do. He did a good job staying on his feet yesterday, A) it almost got him a pick and got him a quarterback hit and forced throw and forced the ball out on another one. I thought he did a nice job. All those guys showed up in run support which we knew was going to be a big part of it. I thought those guys defending the deep balls, shots to 15, which they attempted several, and longest throw of the day was a catch and run on a missed tackle. You are going to win games if you can do that.”

The improvement on defense comes despite missing new cornerback Trae Waynes, who started the season on injured reserve, as well as multiple injuries on the defensive line and a rookie-laden linebacker corps.

Davis-Gaither, a fourth-round draft pick, got his first start Sunday. Covington has settled into a bigger role on the defensive line than originally anticipated after joining the team Sept. 4 in a trade, and the unit is finally getting some experience playing together.

“I just think certainly we’re trending in the right direction,” Anarumo said. “What’s important to know when guys go down, other guys have to step up who weren’t even in our thoughts in July and now we’re here playing real snaps and real games against a great team. We continue to build off that. We love to have everybody but that’s not the way it is. Just the guys are getting the opportunities to step up along with the guys who have been with us from the jump, they all have to continue what they’ve been doing from a preparation standpoint. It’s been terrific since we started. Guys have been great. We just have to keep it going.”