Communication has been solid in the secondary, for the most part this season, but has been an area of focus lately with rookie Cam Taylor-Britt stepping in to replace injured Chidobe Awuzie. The Bengals exceled in disguising what they were doing defensively last season in the two matchups with Kansas City, especially in the AFC Championship when they rallied from a 21-3 deficit with the help of two takeaways.
“It’s very critical,” Bell said of communication and disguising against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. “Him and Joe (Burrow), you can’t give them the answer to the tests early (in the play) and let them figure out in their late progression reads. But with him (Mahomes), he can make every throw so if you’re in Cover-2 or 2-high, you’ve got to get to your landmark because he can make that throw (over the defense). So being on landmarks is critical because he can extend plays very well and (receivers) know how to create and get open throughout zone coverages and get open. So, the plaster rules down the field (apply). You’ve got to be on your landmarks and those are going to be very pivotal going against him, for sure.”
The communication plays a role in that, making sure individual players are on the same page with what the defense is doing. Free safety Jessie Bates said the defense is “a connected group,” where players are not just relying on the coaches talking through adjustments.
With some first- and second-year players getting reps like Taylor-Britt and fellow rookie Dax Hill, Bell said the veterans have been making sure the young guys understand the challenges of facing a quarterback like Mahomes.
Mahomes leads the league with 3,585 yards and 29 touchdowns, and he’s thrown for more than 300 yards in six straight games. Tight end Travis Kelce plays a big role in that, leading the team with 912 yards and 12 touchdowns on 73 receptions and 102 targets.
“I say you cover until you hear that whistle blow … because it’s real now,” Bell said. “It’s just not the guy you been seeing on commercials, ... and now you’re going against him. He’s one of the best and tops in the league and everything’s on the line. They’ll be dialed in for sure. This guy can make every throw, like I said. Just gotta show them on film, make it real to them that’s coming real soon and fast. They’ll be ready, for sure. They’ll answer the bell.”
Outside of comfortability with Kelce, Mahomes spreads the ball around the other receivers and running backs more than he did last year when Tyreek Hill was an option.
The wide receivers are still capable, but it’s unpredictable which might step up in a given game. JuJu Smith-Schuster has 653 yards on 49 catches, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling adds 515 yards on 31 catches. Mecole Hardman contributes 297 yards on 25 receptions over eight games.
“They get the ball to a lot of people,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “He’s like Magic Johnson. He’s a great point guard, he distributes the ball so well. They’ve got plenty besides, obviously everyone knows about Kelce, but they’ve got really good players across the board on offense. The young running back that they have is running hard and is a good receiver out of the backfield and their O-Line is really good. So again, the reason why they’re scoring all these points and winning all these games.”
Chiefs at Bengals, 4:25 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7