Cincinnati Bengals cornerback William Jackson said the defense has something to prove this week after an embarrassing performance against a talented Kansas City Chiefs offense.
Another strong passing team comes to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday when the Bengals (4-3) host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3), but the secondary in particular sees this as an opportunity to right the ship before heading into the bye week.
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Tampa has struggled with turnovers in recent weeks, as Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston has lost one fumble and thrown six interceptions in two and a half games since returning from a three-game suspension to open the season.
“We definitely want to come out and prove ourselves,” Jackson said. “The way we played Sunday night was definitely not us. We don’t know who that was. We are way better than that. We’ve just got to get better this week and we’re looking forward to this next game. We have to have this one, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it.
“We know they like to throw the ball a lot, and they’ve had some inconsistency, and we’re definitely looking forward to getting some picks this week.”
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said the defense seemed to lack a sense of urgency in a 45-10 loss to Kansas City in which the Chiefs racked up 551 yards of offense.
Even he didn’t feel he played with the fire he normally does, but this week is a new opportunity and a chance to correct what went wrong last week.
“We’re still learning,” said Kirkpatrick, who returned to full participation in practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with an Achillies injury. “It’s a new defense. We’re doing things we ain’t done around here before. But like I said as long as we get back to the things that make us good, we’ll be all right. I think that’s going to be the game plan this week.”
Turnovers have been a point of emphasis under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, but the Bengals have recorded one takeaway in the past two games, both losses. Shawn Williams intercepted Patrick Mahomes with the Chiefs leading 38-10 in the third quarter Sunday, and the previous week, the Steelers didn’t turn the ball over at all.
In the first five weeks of the season, Cincinnati had three defensive touchdowns and eight turnovers, including five interceptions. Rookie free safety Jessie Bates and Williams each have two interceptions, and Preston Brown and Michael Johnson each add one pick.
Kirkpatrick has been close on a number of opportunities for interceptions and hopes this will be the week he pulls one down.
“They’re going to give us opportunity,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’ve just got to capitalize on them. I felt like I didn’t have my opportunities, that I didn’t come away with. This week, it’s all about takeaways. We’ve got to go out there and take the ball away. We’ve got to play well on defense.”
Kirkpatrick said Winston is a good quarterback, despite some questionable decisions he’s made with the football. The defense just has to be ready to pounce when the opportunities arise.
Despite the Bucs’ turnover troubles, Tampa Bay presents plenty of tough challenges for the Bengals’ secondary with one of the top passing offenses in the league.
The Bucs average a league-leading 449.5 yards of total offense per game, including an NFL-best 364.0 yards through the air, and their 2,261 yards passing is the most in NFL history through six games. Mike Evans accounts for 591 yards and three touchdowns on 40 catches, and DeSean Jackson adds 526 yards and three touchdowns on 26 catches.
“They have some good receivers,” Jackson said. “Mike Evans is a guy I know and consider a friend. He’s a big guy, and then you’ve got DeSean Jackson, a small, fast guy. It will be a fun task for the secondary. They’ve got some good receivers, and we’ve got some good corners, so it will be fun.”
The Bengals rank 31st in total defense while allowing 429.4 yards of offense per game and 28th in scoring defense, allowing 29.0 points per game. They are still missing nickel corner Darqueze Dennard (shoulder) and linebacker Nick Vigil (knee), and linebacker Vontaze Burfict has joined them as non-participants in practice this week while dealing with a hip injury.
Kirkpatrick said the statistics and rankings are disappointing, and the defense has to turn things around quickly. Cincinnati was 4-1 two weeks ago and now sits behind Pittsburgh (3-2-1) in the AFC North based on winning percentage.
“For sure (it’s surprising), especially the way we play around here,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s something we’ve got to get better at. It’s unacceptable around here for us. We take pride in being a top-tier defense in the league. Like I said, we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve still got everything right there in front of us, so we’ve just got to go get it.”