Bengals rush defense to be tested vs. Henry, Titans

Credit: Mark Zaleski

Credit: Mark Zaleski

CINCINNATI — Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said last week he wasn’t concerned about the struggles of the run defense through the first two games because the issues he saw were all correctable.

That will be put to the test this week when the Bengals travel to face Tennessee, of the best rushing offenses in the league.

The Bengals are coming off a solid defensive outing Monday against the Los Angeles Rams, and they seem to have found a recipe for slowing the Titans’ Derrick Henry. In the divisional round of the 2021 playoffs, they held him to 62 yards rushing and a touchdown, and in a regular-season matchup last year, Henry managed just 38 yards rushing.

Anarumo liked how his defense played Monday, especially while holding the Rams to one third-down conversion on 11 attempts, but won’t be relying on past success to get by Sunday.

“I just think you got a team that is capable of, with the weapons that they have, putting up big numbers, whether it’s in the run game or the pass game, and don’t forget about (Treylon) Burks on the outside and the tight end’s good,” Anarumo said. “...We’ve all seen them, but I know Coach (Mike) Vrabel down there pretty well and I’m quite sure 22 (Henry) is going to get the ball more than 11 times.”

Henry ran the ball just 11 times in a Week 3 loss to the Cleveland Browns, another game that could give the Bengals an idea how to limit the Titans’ offense.

Myles Garrett got to Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill at least four times in the first half, one on a pressure that led to an incomplete pass and then on 2.5 sacks (he finished with 3.5 sacks), and Tennessee found itself trying to climb out of an early hole with the passing game. Garrett’s first sack helped limit the Titans to a field goal, and Cleveland went into halftime up 13-3, en route to a 27-3 victory as the Browns ended up with five sacks.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, is coming off its best pass rushing performance in Anarumo’s five seasons, as the Bengals sacked Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford six times in their 19-16 win Monday at home.

“They were relentless,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of the defense. “They put a lot of pressure on them; were good against the run as well. Just never really allowed them to get into a great rhythm. I think that was critical and I think the coverage on the back end matched that as well. They did a great job with the pressures and matching it with the coverage. ... There are some critical moments in the game that maybe don’t get made a lot of, but were big parts of us winning.”

Defensive end Trey Hendrickson finished with two sacks but could have had another two without penalties, and he totaled 10 pressures with one hit and seven hurries.

Nose tackle DJ Reader even had a sack, but his value will show more in a game like Sunday’s, where he will be asked to clog up the middle and keep Henry from doing damage. Even with Henry only rushing for 20 yards on 11 carries against Cleveland, Tennessee still ranks fourth in rushing yards this season at 69.0. Henry has 163 yards on 51 carries, the fourth most attempts this season.

“If you allow him to break through the line of scrimmage it’s a real problem,” Taylor said. “He’s good behind the line of scrimmage as well, he’s tough to bring down, but once he gets moving, he’s like a freight train. We saw that last year they hit the screen on us and he got in the open field and had the explosive touchdown. He’s a great running back and poses a lot of challenges for the defense.”

The Bengals rank in a tie for 30th in run defense this season because of a slow start that saw the first two opponents amass 384 yards rushing combined. The Rams managed just 71 yards rushing. Cincinnati had been a top 7 run defense the past two seasons.

Hendrickson said the defense just needed an ego check after the first two games, and the wake-up call from an 0-2 start seemed to snap the Bengals back into performing more to expectations. Anarumo had said after Week 2, it was concerning how many yards they were giving up but he would be more concerned if he saw “guys getting knocked off the ball,” which he wasn’t.

“I just know we weren’t tackling as good as we needed to and got out of position a couple times,” Anarumo said Wednesday. “So yeah, I mean, I think we’ve done so well and maybe sometimes you get that in your head, ‘We’ve just got to step out on the field and perform,’ but that’s not this league. Nobody cares what you did, not only last week, but the play before, so you’ve just got to always be ready to go. So, hoping that we shook that off early and are ready to go.”

NOTES: Cincinnati came through Monday’s game relatively healthy, according to Taylor, other than Charlie Jones suffering a hand issue that might limit him this week. The team is still taking things “day to day” with Joe Burrow’s calf. Tight end Irv Smith, who was out Monday because of a hamstring injury, will be monitored this week, and both Joseph Ossai and Chidobe Awuzie will continue to ramp things up as they grow more comfortable coming back from their respective injuries.


Bengals at Titans, 1 p.m., FOX, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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