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Sun., Mar. 08, 2015 1:30 PM PDT
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Smothering Defense Spurs Big Win
The Cincinnati Bengals have been an offensive juggernaut at home in 2013. They averaged 35 points per game, which is a big reason why they hadn’t lost at Paul Brown Stadium all season.
But that all came to a screeching halt with a monster performance by John Pagano’s defense.
The Bengals were shut out in the second half, limited to a season low 10 points at home and were forced into four turnovers as the defense rose to the occasion in a big way.
“I think John Pagano called a phenomenal game,” said Head Coach Mike McCoy. “He did a great job adjusting things and giving them different looks, and that was something you constantly heard him say throughout the game to give them a different look and mix some things up. Give the players credit. It’s about the 11 guys inside those lines, and 11 guys being on the same page and not having any breakdowns. When you play that way – you’re running (to) the football, create some turnovers, you hit the quarterback, you do what you can to stop the run and do some big things – good things happen.”
Donald Butler got the momentum rolling with an incredible forced fumble late in the first half. It looked like Giovani Bernard was going to waltz into the end zone, but Butler never gave up pursuit jolting the ball loose shortly after the running back caught it. Richard Marshall scooped the ball up in the end zone for the first of a season-high four turnovers the defense recorded on the day.
“It was huge,” Jarret Johnson said of the play. “They just had a long drive for a touchdown, came back, and they were driving again. For him to be that aware and come back to get that ball; any turnover is big, but a turnover in the red zone is huge for us.”
The other turnovers forced were just as huge. After the offense gave San Diego a lead early in the second half, Andy Dalton scrambled and dove for a first down. However, the ball popped loose once he hit the ground untouched, and Jahleel Addae alertly pounced on it. On the next drive after the Chargers kicked a field goal, Dalton tried to get a ball into the flat while under duress but Shareece Wright stepped in front of it for the interception, returning it 30 yards to the three-yard line. Then, after the Bolts were again limited to a field goal with the Bengals driving early in the fourth quarter, Melvin Ingram stepped up to pick Dalton off when he once again looked to the flat.
“That felt great,” Ingram said. “It was a blessing. We just played hard going to the whistle. It was all 11 running to the ball and all 11 trying to do their assignments.”
As impressive as any other stat was the fact that the Bolts completely took A.J. Green, one of the true elite wide receivers in the NFL, out of the game. He was targeted nine times but had just three catches for 34 yards. The biggest reason Green was nullified was because of terrific coverage by Wright, who blanketed the wideout all game long. Still, Wright credited Pagano and his schemes for shutting down the Bengals top weapon.
“That was just a great game plan,” he said. “It was a great game plan put together and we executed it. We knew that he was the guy that they were going to try to go to.”
Overall, it was a dominating, smothering effort by the defense, especially in the second half to turn the tide in the Bolts favor.
“We knew coming out for the second half that we had to play our best football,” said Manti Te’o. “Coach always emphasizes that it’s a 30-minute game in the second half and every play matters in the playoffs. The coach dials up the plays, and we have to execute the best that we can. That’s exactly what we did. You saw that run. That was a great run, and a great way to end the game.”