CINCINNATI — On great teams, everyone is held accountable.
The Bengals are hoping to be that great team by the end of the season.
Their record is what it is right now at 2-3. But the leaders in the locker room believe they are setting the foundation for later in the season when the stakes are higher and the margin of error diminishes to near-zero.
Whether it’s a rookie like DJ Turner stepping in for the ailing Chido Awuzie (dealing with back discomfort) or a leader like Joe Burrow, or even the head coach, everyone has a standard to meet if the Bengals are to start rising to the expectations they had in the summer.
In the game against Tennessee, the Bengals had a total of 12 official missed tackles in coaches’ bookkeeping records.
Last week, it improved but there were still issues on the perimeter, such as the 41-yard run by Rondale Moore or the 11-yard TD run by Emari Demercado in the third quarter or the open field missed tackle midway through the third for everyone to see when DJ Turner sped past Hollywood Brown on a simple dump off.
Turner is someone who has impressed Zac Taylor from the start of training camp. Turner has fit in well with fellow rookie Jordan Battle and second-year DBs Dax Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt.
“Well and that’s just what our roster is right now,” Taylor said. “I think our roster is what it is because we have trust in those guys and they’ve earned the opportunity to be on the roster and to be on the field. Your youngest player you’ve got out there right now is DJ Turner and I thought he had a tremendous training camp.
“Every opportunity (Turner) got, yeah it wasn’t always perfect, but you saw him just make a lot of plays on the ball. That creates more opportunity for him, obviously Chido being out helped that as well. He took it and ran with it. Same for Cam Taylor Britt last year, he took it and ran with it. Those guys you don’t know until you see them out there and throw them into the fire and because of that some good things have happened.”
Turner said that the early reps in camp and the preseason helped him get more comfortable sooner so he would be ready to contribute in the regular season. That’s precisely what’s happened.
“So it wasn’t like it was a big learning curve,” Turner said. “I had to go through so it was definitely a good thing.”
If there was something to be corrected, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo was there to correct it and offer a teaching point.
“Everyone gets held to a high standard so you know if I mess up something, it’s going to get corrected. We hold everybody to high standards.”
One thing DJ Turner has worked on is his ability to tackle.
“I wanted to show that I was good at and it showed up this game because a lot of situations happen so to where I had to tackle and so I was definitely positive thing that game,” Turner said.
"Everyone is held to a high standard" DJ Turner on Bengals DC Lou Anarumo pic.twitter.com/pca2IWt8aW
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) October 11, 2023
Taylor has embraced the need to bring his young secondary up to speed and, for the most part, it’s paid off in the likes of Turner, Battle, Hill and Taylor-Britt.
“You gain so much experience with knowledge,” Taylor said. “And you can you can coach it up and show him the clips of it happening around the league or it happened to us into past years of us, but until you get out there and you have to make that split second decision or see it for the first time.
“It’s like anything, you know, you continue to experience your own things and you try your best to learn it. But there’s no teacher greater than just experiences you have and we’re seeing guys, you know, get better and better with every rep that they get.”
Logan Wilson had a pair of missed tackles on the second half-opening drive and so did Cam Taylor-Britt.
When you’re accountable, mistakes get fixed quicker and are less likely to be repeated. That was the model the 2022 Bengals followed when they opened 0-2, 2-3 and 4-4. The players who are most likely to be accountable are also the hardest workers. No one works harder than Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, the two most important players on the roster.
“It’s the standard,” Chase told me. “They expect us to play like that and practice like that every play. It’s how we make the guys around us better, know what I’m saying, going harder and just pushing everybody around us (to be better).”
Both sides of the ball answered that challenge Sunday a couple of times. Trailing 14-10, Cam Taylor-Britt (with the help of Mike Hilton in the slot) picked off a pass for an 11-yard pick-6. Up 24-14, the Bengals allowed Arizona to trim the game to four, 24-20. But a fourth down stop in the red zone extinguished any hope of a Cardinals comeback. Turner, Taylor-Britt, Battle and Hill all played key roles.
With hard work comes accountability. It’s no secret that the offense wasn’t giving the defense a chance in the games in Cleveland and Tennessee. Burrow’s health and the execution of the receivers, running backs and offensive line was not consistent. It was addressed and led to a business-like win in Arizona.
“You have to. You have to or else you’re not going to be able to play well,” Burrow said of the work ethic. “I think that’s pretty constant across the league. The great players all work hard. You can’t miss any reps. You can’t go through the offseason and not work hard and expect to, one, get through an entire season healthy, and two, play really well that whole year. It’s what you need to have if you’re going to have a great team.”
Work ethic leads to natural competition inside the locker room.
“We’re competitive in everything in there,” Burrow told me. “You guys are in there. Guys are playing ping pong and everything. People at this level, they’re competitive in everything they do.”
Tee Higgins said he was feeling better on Thursday and feels like he could play Sunday without a flak jacket. This is very encouraging news for the Bengals. Higgins injured his ribs against the Titans and sat out last week against Arizona. He was limited on Thursday.
Tee Higgins says he could play Sunday vs Seattle without a flak jacket. pic.twitter.com/duegelMzuU
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) October 12, 2023
Chido Awuzie was back on the field for full pads practice on Thursday after a back issue forced him to miss last Friday and Sunday’s game in Arizona. Awuzie was also limited but a good sign that he could be ready by Sunday.
Chido Awuzie participating today in Bengals full pads. pic.twitter.com/vqTn5zrtrk
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) October 12, 2023