‘Superman’ D.J. Reader led Bengals’ effort in stopping Titans’ running game

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Zac Taylor says the Bengals are right on schedule

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Trench talk dominated the day-after discussions for the Cincinnati Bengals as they savored a win over the Tennessee Titans and looked ahead to the AFC Championship Game.

Despite missing Larry Ogunjobi, the defensive line answered the challenge of Derrick Henry’s return from injury and held the Titans running game in check for the most part.

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They averaged 5.2 yards per carry, but about a third of their 140 yards came on a 45-yard burst by D’Onta Foreman.

“I thought they did a great job — everybody up front,” head coach Zac Taylor said Sunday afternoon.

Josh Tupou replaced Ogunjobi, who went down with a foot injury last week, in the starting lineup, but a knee issue limited him to five snaps.

B.J. Hill ended up playing 91 percent of the defensive snaps (48) while rookie nose tackle Tyler Shelvin got 36 percent (19) and newcomer Zach Kerr logged 12 plays (23 percent) inside.

Starter D.J. Reader was the man of the match, though, logging six tackles (tied for second on the team) and two for loss.

“He was Superman yesterday, quite frankly,” Taylor said. “I knew during the game you could see him make some plays, but until you really dial in and watch the tape, you then can can further understand the impact he had on the game.”

Henry finished with 62 yards on 20 carries, an average of 3.1. He never had one of his signature breakaway runs as the tackles held their own inside, ends Sam Hubbard, Trey Hendrickson and Cam Sample controlled the edge and linebackers Logan Wilson (eight tackles) and Germaine Pratt (four tackles) cleaned up.

“You can point out every single player making some key plays in a game, and (defensive coordinator) Lou Anarumo and that staff did a tremendous job yesterday,” Taylor said. “But if you’re going to single out one guy for their performance, D.J. Reader certainly is deserving of that. He set the tone.”

“Cam sample left with a groin injury, so we’re gonna have to see where he goes this week, but I just thought everybody up front did a tremendous job. Shelvin came in there gave us some reps. Zach Kerr gave us a couple reps. Tupou gave it all he could for as long as he could, and then we ended up pulling him out of the game, so we’ll monitor him this week as well and see where he’s at.”

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On the other side of the ball, things did not go so well.

The Bengals gave up nine sacks and ran for 65 yards on 18 carries.

Taylor said the struggles protecting quarterback Joe Burrow were not all with the offensive line and took some of the blame himself.

“They’ve got a really good defensive line,” Taylor said. “They did a good job up front mixing up some looks. Some of them were pressures, some of them weren’t. I think everybody could improve. It starts with me putting our guys in better positions to where we can just protect our quarterback better, but I think you can go up and down that list.”

He noted some of the sacks were thanks to the Titans changing up coverages as well.

“There just weren’t guys open and and so eventually they got home, but again, these are things that we can learn from,” Taylor said. “Fortunately, we get to learn from victory, and we know whoever we play is going to be another tough test next week with the pass rush.”

Taylor is happy to have another game to plan for, but he could be trying to replace some assistants after the season.

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan interviewed for Denver’s head coaching position last week, and Anarumo interviewed with the New York Giants on Sunday morning according to the NFL Network.

That is fine with Taylor, who threw a third hat into the ring of potential head coaches on his staff — long-time special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons.

“I’m not trying to push Darrin out the door, but he’s kind of the best kept secret we got in the NFL, and it is probably just because he’s done such a great job here for so long that he hasn’t scattered around a lot of different organizations like a lot of us have,” Taylor said.

While Callahan and Anarumo joined the Bengals staff with Taylor three years ago, Simmons has been in Cincinnati since 2003.

“Darrin should absolutely be in the conversation. It’s kind of shocking that he’s not, but I’ll keep him as long as I can keep him,” Taylor said. “But again, happy for those three — those two guys specifically right now — to get those opportunities and we’ll see how it plays out.”

AFC Championship Game

Sunday, Jan. 30

Bengals at Bills/Chiefs, 3 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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