Bengals run defense a concern with injuries mounting

CINCINNATI — After being on the field as the opponent in three losses drove down for the game-winning points on the last play, the Cincinnati Bengals defense talked all last week about “finishing.”

The Bengals didn’t play their best game defensively Sunday but achieved that main goal, forcing a turnover on downs to allow Joe Burrow the chance to kneel out the clock on the final play of a 30-26 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Cincinnati also forced a three-and-out on the previous drive, and the Bengals scored the go-ahead touchdown the next play.

“We have three goals every week, and the first one is takeaways, then there is some other goal and then we talked about finishing, so it was good we finally did that,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said.

The performance before those last two drives was a little more concerning. The Saints rushed for 228 yards, and two more players crucial to the run defense went down with injuries.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he’s hopeful linebacker Logan Wilson will be week-to-week with the shoulder injury he suffered, and said the team should have more information Wednesday. Defensive tackle Josh Tupou, who left the game with a calf injury, was in a walking boot in the locker room Monday and is expected to be out for at least a couple of weeks, Taylor said.

The Bengals already are missing nose tackle D.J. Reader, who suffered a knee injury in the Week 3 game at the New York Jets and won’t be eligible to return until at least next week. Taylor said there’s still no timetable for Reader’s return but he recently has been spotted working out on the rehab field and was on the sidelines with the team Sunday.

Tupou has been starting in Reader’s place, so the Bengals called on Zach Carter and Jay Tufele to fill in Sunday. Anarumo said he’s been pleased with the guys stepping up in those situations, but 228 yards rushing is unacceptable.

“That’s too much,” Anarumo said. “Oh yeah, absolutely. I looked up at halftime, I think they had 160 or something. We finished fourth or fifth in the league last year in run defense and we started off on a good trend this year. That’s unacceptable, and the guys know that. But again, you lose pieces and you don’t fit it exactly right, it’s not going to look the same. We’ve got to make sure we get back to who we are.”

Taylor said the stats were skewed by three big plays that led to 100 yards rushing for the Saints. One was a 44-yard run by Rashid Shaheed around the right end on a jet sweep against man coverage, so “it wasn’t always D-tackle stuff.”

Anarumo counted eight missed tackles, which is almost twice what the Bengals normally see.

“Those things are easily corrected,” he said. “I feel like we’ve been a good tackling team, and I don’t think one game is detrimental.”

Reader’s absence has shown up in the past three games.

The defense allowed 86 yards rushing per game with Reader in the first three games, and the Bengals ranked fifth in rush success rate and eighth in rushing yards allowed. Since his injury, they’re allowing 156 yards per game game, including 158 yards last week at Baltimore, and ranked 28th in rush success rate and 24th in rushing yards allowed for Weeks 4-6.

“It’s huge,” Anarumo said. “You can’t replace one of the best players in the league at that position. It’s impossible.”

It’s hard to know what to expect with Wilson and Tupou also likely out, but Anarumo said it doesn’t change the game plan.

“We’re confident in the guys we do have behind them,” Anarumo said. “Like yesterday Markus Bailey stepped up and played a handful of plays. Akeem (Davis-Gaither) did some more. Germaine (Pratt) had a very productive day yesterday and did a bunch of different things in different roles. That’s one of the positives about our roster is the guys have been here and they know what to do. We expect those guys to step in and fill in those roles and really not try to change much when it comes to scheme.”


Falcons at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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