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Bengals defense closing out wins

Buffalo is facing second down from Cincinnati’s 33-yard line with 11:38 remaining in the third quarter. They need seven yards. At this point in the game, the Bengals offense is reeling; for whatever reason, these third quarters have been horrifically depressing this season. Andy Dalton had just thrown his second A.J. Green-assisted interception with the slick football bouncing into the waiting arms of Buffalo defenders. On the ensuing possession, Green would lose a fumble after a 20-yard gain, summarizing a categorically disastrous third quarter with both possessions ending with a turnover.

This sounds awful, right? How much did Cincinnati lose by, you wonder.

Let’s head back to the 11:38 mark in the third quarter. The Bills lined up in trips formation, strong-side to the left. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the de facto strong-side linebacker (SAM), was aligned on the same side as Buffalo’s tight end (aka, strong side). Defensive end Michael Johnson, who typically plays an interior spot during passing situations (aka, the new Wallace Gilberry), played right defensive end.

Here’s how the play broke down. Left tackle Dion Dawkins attempted to seal defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, who was playing the three-technique. Tight end Nick O’Leary took on Johnson while left guard Richie Incognito, assigned to the first defender that crossed his path, pulled left.

Cincinnati’s defense won early on.

Michael Johnson shoved O’Leary into the backfield, forcing running back LeSean McCoy to straighten his approach. This created a significant disruption to Incognito, leaving McCoy with two really bad options.

If McCoy redirects inside, he’ll run into Glasgow. If McCoy continues down the line of scrimmage, he’ll face Burfict with the hope that Incognito will break away (he didn’t).

Burfict dropped McCoy for a three-yard loss, forcing the Bills into a third-and-seven scenario; made worse after an offensive hold on the ensuing play setting up a third-and-20 that Buffalo failed to convert.

With a game-high 13 tackles, three tackles for loss, a quarterback hit, Burfict was one of five Bengals defenders that generated six quarterback sacks during Cincinnati’s 20-16 win over the Bills. “That’s good,” Burfict said. “I am more concerned about the win. At the end of the day, I could have 20 tackles and a loss, and everyone would want to talk about the 20 tackles. But you know I am here to help the team win.”

I like that.

Cincinnati’s defense held Buffalo to 221 yards.

With one game remaining this week, Paul Guenther’s crew is currently ranked No. 2 in total defense (262.8 yards allowed per game) and ranked second in scoring defense (16.6 points allowed). Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor was sacked (Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins) on consecutive third downs during the Bills opening two possessions of the game. Rookie Jordan Willis added his first career sack in the third quarter. Cincinnati’s 18 quarterback sacks currently ranks second in the NFL.

“We (played well),” Burfict said after Sunday’s win. “We did good all week. We knew what we had against us. We had to stop (Buffalo running back LeSean) McCoy and (Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor). We did a good job of talking about the scheme, and who had the quarterback and stuff like that.”

More impressive was their performance during the fourth quarter, when the Bengals were facing a 13-10 deficit and Cincinnati’s offense had just concluded all of their third quarter possessions with soul-crushing turnovers. Buffalo had three possessions in the final period and Cincinnati held them to only seven yards (two if you exclude Carl Lawson’s penalty during Burfict’s sack). Prior to George Iloka’s game-sealing interception, the Bengals also recorded three sacks in the final period.

While the evolving offense is adjusting with a new coordinator, the defense is starting to gain confidence with a nice close-out win.

“It was definitely satisfying. One time (Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther) played this song ‘Closing Time’ for us and said, ‘We need closers.’”, said Iloka. “He played that song for us in the defensive room, and he always said we need closers as a defense. You want to be like, ‘we want to close out this game.’ In this league, games are always close — within a touchdown or a field goal, so you have to take pride in the defense and close it out.”

They did that Sunday.

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