Banged-up Bengals counting on rookie, backups to shore up defensive line

Cincinnati could be without both starting defensive ends Thursday vs. Baltimore

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CINCINNATI — Rookie first-round draft pick Myles Murphy is preparing for the possibility the Cincinnati Bengals will need him for even more snaps for Thursday’s game at Baltimore.

The Bengals (5-4) could be without both starting defensive ends. Sam Hubbard has been out with an ankle injury and Trey Hendrickson suffered a knee injury after the final play from scrimmage in Sunday’s loss to Houston. Noah Brown appeared to lose his balance and fell backward on Hendrickson, causing him to fall awkwardly on his left leg.

With Hubbard missing the game Sunday, Murphy played a season-high 36 percent of the defensive snaps, rotating mainly with Cam Sample, who played 67 percent of snaps. Joseph Ossai played 28 percent of the snaps, rotating behind Hendrickson on the right side. All three backups will be needed.

“With those two guys (Hubbard and Hendrickson), I guess just hoping for the best, speedy recovery,” Murphy said Monday. “I literally just texted Trey probably 30 minutes ago, praying for good news, hoping he has a great recovery and really just ahead of us with me, Joe (Ossai), Cam (Sample), we’ve got to step up, honestly. So, we’ve got to step up and keep things going with how the defense has been playing, honestly.”

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Monday afternoon that an MRI revealed Hendrickson is dealing with a hyperextended knee, but about 15 minutes before Rapoport broke that news, Bengals coach Zac Taylor said it was too soon to make any declarations about Hendrickson.

Taylor classified Hendrickson as “day-to-day.”

“It’s just 24 hours ago it happened,” Taylor said. “Obviously, a short week is challenging but we’ll see how it goes.”

Taylor said about the same regarding Hubbard and Tee Higgins, who missed the game Sunday with a hamstring injury. It’s “tough” to know if injuries will heal in the short week.

Ossai, a 2021 third-round draft pick, and Sample, a fourth-round pick in 2021, have had more time to grow into their roles, but this could be Murphy’s chance to really show what he brings to the defense against a tough Lamar Jackson-led Ravens offense.

Murphy doesn’t plan to prepare any differently than he has other weeks, but his comfort level with the defense has him feeling more ready than he was in Week 2 when these teams last met. Murphy played 19 defensive snaps that game.

“I am excited for any opportunity, honestly,” Murphy said. “Every opportunity from OTAs, all the way up ‘til now. Really any opportunity I can put my talents on display, I’ll always go for it.”

Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said Hubbard is “irreplaceable” in the run defense. Cincinnati gave up 150 yards to Devin Singletary on Sunday, and although “everyone had their hand in that,” Hubbard’s absence made stopping the run up front more challenging.

Both Anarumo and Taylor noted the need for depth on the defensive line is why the organization invested in that position through the draft in recent years. Murphy was a bit of a surprise pick in the first round considering other seemingly more glaring holes, and now 10 weeks into his rookie season, it’s time to show why he was valued so highly.

“We’ve put draft picks in there with Myles and Cam and Joseph, and so again, this is the NFL,” Taylor said. “The injury situation will never be perfect for any of the teams we are playing against or for ourselves. That’s why your roster has to be deep, and you’ve got to be able to count on those guys. So, again, we count on all those guys at that position if their number is called more than normal, that’s the position we’ll find ourselves in, and we expect those guys to step up.”

Anarumo said the coverage Sunday wasn’t great when Houston quarterback C.J. Stroud escaped out of the pocket and made throws on the run, but the pressure wasn’t good enough either. The Bengals recorded just one sack. Hendrickson will be tough to replace in that regard, as a top 10 pass rusher in the league with 8.5 sacks. Hubbard also accounts for a solid 4.0 sacks.

Sample and Murphy each have one sack, but Ossai hasn’t recorded one yet.

Jackson is always a challenge because of his ability to extend plays with his legs, but Murphy said the key will be not backing off the pressure. The Bengals gave up 178 yards rushing, including 54 to Jackson, and 278 yards passing in a 27-24 loss to Baltimore in Week 2.

“Of course, knowing who he is, he’s a quarterback that if he gets out of the pocket and starts running, he’s a dangerous opponent so just keeping that in mind, but then again, don’t let that scare you,” Murphy said. “Keep pass rushing, don’t be hesitant in your pass rush, still get after the passer. He still has his legs and can make plays with his legs, but we’ve got to keep getting after him.”


Bengals at Ravens, 8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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