Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Bengals' defensive numbers numbing


On pace to be franchise's worst ever

By Shannon Russell srussell@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Linebacker Brian Simmons has seen a lot of losing as a Cincinnati Bengal, five seasons' worth. He doles out automatic responses like candy, nodding his head and speaking softly about the defense's most recent demise.

        Yes, the team is 0-4. Yes, opponents have demolished the Bengals with an average of 333.8 yards a game. And yes, those teams have scored an average of 29.8 points a game.

        This defense is in danger of giving up the most points in franchise history.

        “It's something we have to solve,” Simmons said. “It's not something we can blame on anyone but us.”

        Spiraling from dismal to abysmal, the Bengals allowed Tampa Bay a season-high 35 points Sunday. The defense has allowed 119 points in four games and if it keeps up that pace will give up a whopping 476 points.

        Doing so would dethrone the 1999 defense as the worst in team annals. The club was outscored 460-283 and floundered to 4-12 under Bruce Coslet. It allowed a staggering 135 points in the first four games, scoring only 55.

        The Bengals have scored 23 points this season.

        When he hears the numbers, Simmons diverges from the script.

GOAL-KEEPING
  • Overall: The Bengals want to be in the top three in yards allowed, which determines the overall defensive ranking.
  Last year in review: Ninth overall, allowed 302 yards a game.
  Now: 333.8 yards a game, 19th in the NFL.
  To reach goal: Will have to catch league leader Carolina (239.8 ppg).
  • Goal No.1: The Bengals want to allow 14 points a game.
  Last year through Game 4: They allowed 17.75 ppg.
  Now: Allow 29.75 points.
  To reach goal: Need to hold each team to 8.75 ppg.
  • Goal No. 2: Allow 280 yards offense.
  Last year through Game 4: 333 yards.
  Now: 333.8 yards.
  To reach goal: Must keep teams to 262 yards total offense.
  • Goal No. 3: Improve sacks record to 52.
  Last year through Game 4: 10.
  Now: 5.
  To reach goal: 47, or 3.9 a game.
  • Goal No. 4: Come up with 37 takeaways (interceptions/fumble recoveries).
  Last year through Game 4: 8.
  Now: 3.
  To reach goal: 34, or 2.8 a game.

        “Is it frustrating? Yeah. Every loss is frustrating,” he said. “Heck, we're not playing good enough to even be in the game. You need to be in the game to give yourself the chance to win. We haven't even done that yet and we've played a month of football.”

        Defensive coordinator Mark Duffner agrees. This, after he led the 2001 club to a ninth-place NFL defensive ranking with its fewest points allowed (309) since 1989. Under Duffner, the defense gave up the fewest yards per game (302) since 1983 and set a club record for sacks (48).

        Fast forward to Sunday, when the Bucs' Brad Johnson threw two wide-open touchdown passes and Ken Dilger broke three tackles for another score as Tampa romped for 363 yards.

        “Our busted plays led to touchdowns, and that is unacceptable,” Duffner said. “The key is to be more consistent.”

        Duffner attributes the stagnant defense to different situations in different games. Against San Diego, he said the players tried to take on too many assignments at once. Against Cleveland, the defense showed hints of progress and held the Browns offense to 14 fewer points. Though the numbers reverted to embarrassing in Atlanta's 30-3 win in Week 3, the Bengals finally forced their first turnover of the season against Tampa Bay a week later.

        “We need to work on our execution lapses. They haven't been through lack of fight from our players, or lack of knowing what to do. We've been aggressive,” Duffner said.

        “Where we are at the end of the year is more important than where we are now.”

        The defense has fallen horrendously short of its preseason goals. Duffner wanted 52 sacks; so far the team has five. To reach the goal, the Bengals will have to average four sacks a game.

        Reinard Wilson, who led the team in sacks last year (nine), has none this season. Justin Smith, who set a rookie sacks record in 2001 (8.5), has one.

        Another goal was to allow opponents an average of 14 points a game. In four games, the Bengals have given up an average of 29.8 points a game. To cut it down to 14 by the season's end, they'll have to limit each remaining rival to 8.75.

        Keeping opponents to a goal of 280 yards of offense is improbable. Four teams have rolled up 1,335 net yards on the Bengals, a 333.75-yard average.

        “I would say this about all of our statistics: There is a lot of football left to be played,” coach Dick LeBeau said. “We have to do better everywhere.”

        Like Simmons, linebacker Takeo Spikes is painfully familiar with the defense's lapses. But he has no quick salve for the wounds.

        “We need to create more turnovers like we did on Sunday and not have mental breakdowns,” Spikes said. “What are we going to do, fold? We're not going to fold.”

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