Bengals ‘very pleased’ with defensive performance in preseason opener

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals defense shined early in training camp, and that carried over to the first preseason game of the year as well.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo was all smiles talking about the highlights of Saturday’s 19-14 win against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bengals finished with four sacks, including two in one series against Tom Brady, and three takeaways, while limiting Tampa Bay to 29 yards rushing.

For a defense that struggled against the run in the past and ranked last in sacks with just 17 total in 2020, the stats reflected exactly the kind of progress Anarumo wanted to see. He hopes for the same kind of energy Friday when the Bengals play the Washington Football Team.

“They all played hard, if you get turnovers and eliminate explosive plays in the pass game and the run game, you’re going to be successful,” Anarumo said. “We were very pleased with that. … It was a good outing.”

It wasn’t all good, though, on Saturday.

Rookie defensive end/linebacker Joseph Ossai suffered what initial reports indicated could have been a wrist fracture after a productive Bengals debut in which he played 33 snaps. He finished the game with five pressures and one sack on Brady, after winning a one-on-one battle with offensive tackle Tristan Wirffs.

The Bengals were still waiting on more test results Monday and there was no update early Tuesday, but Anarumo said Ossai’s first game was encouraging.

“He did well,” Anarumo said. “Joe showed what he’s shown out on the practice field. He was aggressive, he was relentless in his effort and he has a knack for getting to the quarterback so it was good to see.”

In addition to Ossai’s sack, Darius Hodge also stood out in the pass rush with 1.5 sacks, while rookie Cam Sample also added one sack and Armani Bledsoe had a half sack.

While the team built the roster around trying to improve the pass rush this offseason, turnovers and just swarming to the football have been the big points of emphasis in training camp. The Bengals’ defense had produced one turnover going into halftime, as Cincinnati led 7-6, but safeties Kavon Frazier and Trayvon Henderson intercepted passes in the second half. Mike Thomas recovered a fumble in the first half.

“We’ve said to them, to the players: Physicality, physicality, and physicality,” Anarumo said. “And it started I think, again, it’s one game, but the 29 yards rushing. The first play of the game Vonn (Bell) tackles Leonard Fournette in the flat, no gain, and I just think that showed up. And that has to be the standard as we go forward.”

Anarumo said the Bengals are doing the same drills to work on turnovers as they did last year but they have “ramped it up even more” and the players have really followed through in practice with a lot of energy going to the ball.

The main thing is he wants to see more strip attempts, even if they don’t result in forced fumbles, so takeaway circuits where the defense works on that have been important.

In terms of the secondary, Cincinnati saw positive signs with the new cornerbacks getting a series together for the first time, and the backups kept the level up while the Bucs’ longest pass was for 18 yards. The defensive backs and defensive line both made things difficult for Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks.

“Rush and coverage goes hand in hand,” cornerback Trae Waynes said. “We weren’t on the field very long, and yeah it was the first preseason game, but we got a sack, we had a couple of pass breakups and you can see it’s working pretty well.”

Waynes said the defense’s goal is just to play more as a unit. Anarumo saw signs Saturday that all three levels of the defense were connected, which he labeled as imperative to getting better results in 2021.

“We had a tight game plan,” Anarumo said. “The idea the whole preseason is go play, not so much game planning the opponent, just give them our base calls and let them go play. But there’s communication from the back end to the linebackers to the front, and they always have to be intertwined. We always tell them, ‘If we’re all wrong, we’re all right.’ Even if they say something, as long as we all do it, it may not be exactly what we wanted, but as long as they’re all on the same page, so it’s critical to success.”


Bengals at Washington, 8 p.m., Ch. 12 (CBS, Cincinnati), Ch. 22 (ABC, Dayton), 1530, 102.7

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