Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap was surprised to see a new depth chart posted Thursday indicating he would not be starting this week.
The 11th year veteran said the Bengals (1-2-1) are changing up the game-plan ahead of Sunday’s AFC North matchup at Baltimore (3-1), and before Thursday’s practice, he was still trying to figure out what the objective is.
“It sounds like it’s not going to be me in there,” Dunlap said on a Zoom news conference Thursday. “So, I think they want a different run stopper. I think I can give that to them.”
Baltimore ranks 31st of 32 teams in passing offense with just 180 yards per game, while the Ravens bring the third-best running game to the field, averaging 160 rushing yards per game. That has a lot to do with quarterback Lamar Jackson’s ability to move the ball on the ground as the top rushing quarterback in the league. Jackson, the 2019 league MVP, was held from practice for a second straight day Thursday because of a knee injury but is still expected to play Sunday.
The Bengals have struggled against mobile quarterbacks in the past, especially Jackson. He rushed for 152 yards against them in the first matchup last year while also throwing for 236 yards.
“I don’t know what the thought is, but evidently, focus on third down,” Dunlap said. “So, we’ve got to get them to third down with the young boys and do what I’m asked to do.”
According to ProFootballFocus.com, of the team’s edge rushers, Dunlap is third in run-stop percentage behind Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard. Lawson has 58 stops to put him at a 10.3 percent success rate, while Hubbard is at 9 percent with 89 stops and Dunlap 6.8 percent with 73 stops. A stop constitutes tackle for offensive failure. Rookie Khalid Kareem is next at 4.8 percent with 21 stops.
Dunlap will become more of a third-down pass rusher, although he still believes he can be effective in the run defense.
“You could roll the tape and see how I’ve played,” Dunlap said. “Obviously versus Philly we featured more of the defense that I played my whole career. But you’ve seen me make plays in this defense as well. So, listen, when my number is called, yeah (I’m effective).”
Dunlap was perhaps most disappointed because he wasn’t told of the change in advance of seeing it posted on the wipe board.
The 2010 second-round draft pick has started every game he’s played since 2013 when he started 15 of 16 games. He’s missed two games since then, in 2019 because of injury.
“That’s crazy, right?” Dunlap said of not being told of the change first. “Yeah, I mean you would think that common decency would be something like that. I mean, it’s not like I’m injured or anything. I’m not nursing anything. I’ve been blessed. Eleven years in the game, but I understand business, and evidently, this is the business they want to do. They’re the coaches. I’m Employee 96, like I’ve always said.”
Apparently, there was some sort of miscommunication where defensive line coach Nick Eason thought one of the other coaches had already informed Dunlap.
But, Dunlap is still unclear on why the decision was made and if it’s just a temporary change for this game or a long-term plan.
“Evidently I didn’t make enough tackles in the run game,” Dunlap said, speculating. “I mean, you put two and two together. It’s the only thing that would make sense, you know, because I don’t think my performance has slowed down. They’ve just got these game plans and I’m Employee 96 and that’s where I am in the plan.”
Dunlap said he should be preparing to stop “the madness” that Baltimore brings but instead he is trying to figure out his role and what expectations are for him.
The Bengals are without defensive tackle Mike Daniels and are still working Geno Atkins back into practices after a shoulder injury suffered Sept. 3. Dunlap had a slow start to the 2019 season but finished with nine sacks – his most since recording 13.5 in 2015 – and two forced fumbles to go along with 63 tackles. In four games this year, he has two pass deflections and 16 tackles but is still awaiting his first sack as the pass rush wasn’t prevalent the first two games.
“The coaches have their opinion, but I’ve been asked to do certain things and I’m not going to get into a back and forth on camera about that stuff, but at the end of the day this is their plan,” Dunlap said. “They’re the coaches, and I’m just trying to be a good employee.”
“I think we’ve got a good game plan, but I would like to be a part of it,” he added.