Bengals’ defense regroups following awful performance

Published 1:34 am Thursday, October 9, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals’ defense got closer to full strength on Wednesday when Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict went through a full practice. Given how the last game went, it was an encouraging return.

Cincinnati’s defense played its worst game in years, losing at New England 43-17 on Sunday night. The Patriots piled up 505 yards, the most any opponent had managed against the Bengals since 2007.

“There’s a lot to learn from, of course,” linebacker Emmanuel Lamur said before practice. “It can make you or break you.

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“It was a wake-up call. It was tough. It was frustrating.”

Burfict has missed the last two games while recovering from his second concussion of the season. The Bengals missed tackles, had breakdowns in coverage and got pushed around in New England without Burfict in the middle of the defense.

The Bengals (3-1) are hoping that Burfict gets through the week without any problems. They host Carolina (3-2) on Sunday in a matchup of division leaders. The Bengals are atop the AFC North, while the Panthers are in first in the NFC South.

The offense had big problems in New England as well, turning the ball and failing to do anything consistently. Receivers dropped passes — tight end Jermaine Gresham let one slip through his arms in the end zone — and Andy Dalton overthrew open receivers down the sideline.

There was another setback on Wednesday when Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green left practice during warmups after aggravating his injured big right toe. He had five catches for a team-high 81 yards and a touchdown at New England.

Receiver Marvin Jones also sat out another practice with an ankle injury, leaving his return uncertain.

The biggest problems in New England came from a defense that was ranked No. 3 in the league last season. The Patriots completed a 20-yard pass on the opening play and went 80 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown to start the game and set the tone.

Their 505 net yards were the most by a Bengals opponent since a 51-45 loss at Cleveland on Sept. 16, 2007, when they gave up 554 net yards, according to STATS.

“We’re usually a lot more in sync than we played on Sunday,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “You can attribute that to numerous things.”

Part of it was that New England went to an up-tempo offense, snapping the ball quickly. The Bengals were slow to get lined up, leaving defenders scrambling to get into position. The confusion led to breakdowns.

“Yeah, that contributed to a few things out there,” safety George Iloka said.

The defense finally got in sync at the start of the second half. By that time, the Patriots led 20-3. Their poor first half was too much to overcome.

“That’s one of the things we always talk about: Starting fast and getting on somebody early,” Dunlap said. “They got on us early and by the time we’d gotten things under control, they were ahead. We’d dug ourselves a hole too deep.”

The rough night made Cincinnati’s defense slip to 27th in the league in yards allowed. Getting Burfict back would help a lot. He relays the defensive calls and helps everyone get set up.

Burfict declined to be interviewed coming off the field after practice on Wednesday.

“He knows the whole defense,” Lamur said. “If anything happens (with the defensive call) it doesn’t matter because he knows the whole defense and all the calls. It makes my job easier because he’s already calling the play before it’s hiked. That helps out a lot.”

Notes: RG Kevin Zeitler had a limited practice on Wednesday. Zeitler has the last two games with a strained right calf. … The Bengals haven’t sold enough tickets to have the game televised locally, but were optimistic they’d reach the mark. The first two home games were televised locally in front of crowds of 58,574 and 56,745. Paul Brown Stadium seats 65,515. … Offensive lineman Jeff Baca was signed to the practice squad. Baca was a sixth-round pick by Minnesota last year and played in four games. He was waived on Aug. 30.