Bengals' Lawson: Struggling run defense has hampered pass rush

Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Jedrick Wills (71) plays against Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson (58) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Caption
Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Jedrick Wills (71) plays against Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson (58) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Credit: AP

Carl Lawson gets a little irked when he sees or hears people commenting on how the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive line has struggled to get after the quarterback through the first two games.

The first concern, he said, should be on stopping the run. Then, there are more opportunities to apply pressure and record sacks. The Bengals rank 22nd in run defense after allowing 135.5 rushing yards per game, and they only have two sacks and four quarterback hits.

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“We struggled to stop the run,” Lawson said. “You don’t get that many attempts to just have drop-back passes to get after the quarterback. We have to fix that problem first. Obviously, we have the talent and the pass rushers to get the quarterback. The narrative is ‘You guys have struggled to get after the quarterback,’ but I’m like when we’re in third and short or teams are doing play action boots and things of that nature, you don’t get many drop-back opportunities.”

Lawson pointed to Tampa Bay as an example last year. The Buccaneers recorded 2.9 sacks per game, which ranked in a tie for seventh most, and they led the league in run defense, allowing just 73.8 rushing yards per game.

Pittsburgh leads the league with just 133 total rushing yards allowed through two games and has 10 sacks, ranking behind only Washington’s 11.

“We have to address that first, then you’ll see us shine,” Lawson said.

The Bengals' run defense didn’t look so bad in a 16-13 loss to the Chargers in Week 1, but it was a painfully obvious Thursday when the Browns rushed for 216 yards against them.

Missed tackles and poor gap assignments led to several big plays, and in that regard, it seems little has changed from 2019 when Cincinnati had the worst run defense in the league. The Bengals allowed 148.9 rushing yards per game.

“I can’t really tell you (why that’s been the trend),” Lawson said. “I think that we just need to go fix it to be honestly. All I know, I’m gonna continue to get better each day and continue to go work and bring other guys alongside me. I can’t really tell you. I’m not a coach. Lou (Anarumo) has better analysis than me. But I know things that I can fix, and I know the energy I can bring in practice and in the games.”

Lawson got one sack in the opener and has six tackles, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit through two games. He missed four games last year because of a hamstring injury after returning from an ACL tear in 2018.

Asked what he could do personally to help the defense more, Lawson said the first focus – even for him, as a guy who normally comes in on third-down pass plays -- is to help stop the run.

“Even against the Chargers in that two-minute situation (at the end of the first half) we had more runs than pass,” Lawson said. “People know what we can do. You saw what happened at the end of last season the pass rush picked up, because we were more sound and started playing better against the run. It’s easy to be a writer and say, ‘The pass rush sucks,’ but, no we have to stop the run first so we can get people in position to do that.”

Getting defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels back would help, but it’s still unclear when they will be available. Atkins hasn’t practiced with the full team since training camp because of a shoulder injury, and Daniels missed Thursday’s game after playing through a groin injury in the opener. The short turnaround between the Week 1 and Week 2 games prevented him from being ready to go again.

Zac Taylor mentioned Friday the hope for getting more depth back on the defensive line this week, but Wednesday’s practice will be a strong indication if either Atkins or Daniels will be back. Both worked on the rehab field Monday during the portion of practice open to the media, and the team was off Tuesday.

“It would be a big help,” Lawson said of whether Atkins and Daniels can help solve issues with the run defense. “I think that’s pretty obvious for everybody else, too. It’s not something that can’t be fixed and it will be fixed.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Eagles, 1 p.m., CBS, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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