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Fay: As Bengals start second half, team hopes small improvements lead to big results

Gilberry's return highlights bye week
Fay: As Bengals start second half, team hopes small improvements lead to big results
Posted at 10:00 AM, Nov 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-11 10:00:46-05

CINCINNATI -- You aren't going to see much of a different Bengals team Monday night when the second half of the season starts with a game against the New York Giants in New Jersey.

The Bengals are coming off a bye week. It's a chance to reset things.

The team did make one player move, re-signing free agent defensive end Wallace Gilberry. But after a day of meetings Monday, the consensus from the players on Tuesday was: We all have to get a little better.

"We've got to start winning," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "That's the big thing for sure. Coaches told us this past week to look yourselves in the mirror and see what you can improve upon individually and then collectively as a group.

"This week we took the time to see what's been beating us and what's been giving us trouble. We're just going to clean that up. The bye week came at a good time."

The Bengals, of course, have been saying this pretty much from the start of the season. You'd expect as much from a team that finished the first half 3-4-1 after going 12-4 last season.

The AFC North is winnable. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are tied atop the division at 4-4. This Bengals team is capable of a 6-2 or 7-1 run, but it has shown no signs of sustaining a run this year.

The Bengals' problem right now is mainly on the defensive side of the ball. Well, that and Mike Nugent's sudden struggles. In Nugent's case, they just have to hope he comes out it.

With the defense, it's an 11-man problem. The Bengals rank 25th in the NFL in overall defense, 23rd in rushing and 21st in passing.

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 29: Wallace Gilberry #95 of the Cincinnati Bengals looks on against the Chicago Bears during a preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 29, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Adding Gilberry could help. He had 17.5 sacks in his four seasons with the Bengals. The Bengals rate 18th in the NFL in sack rate.

"He's got a great motor that don't stop," cornerback Adam Jones said about Gilberry. "You need a guy like that. You know you need guys like that. He adds a lot of salt to the mix. He's almost like a Dennis Rodman guy. He's not going to win every play. But he'll help us."

But Gilberry alone is not going to turn this defense around. Again, that's going back to each player playing a little better. The bye week was a chance to evaluate and reflect.

"I looked at every play I was involved in," Jones said. "The coaches showed a lot of plays we can get better at in the running game and the passing."

Jones saw tackling as the one thing he could do better. He's not alone. It's a been a year-long problem with the Bengals.

"When you take a whole picture and dissect everything, there's a lot of areas we can get better, " Jones said. "It all works together. … The game in London, it was a lot of YAC -- yards after the catch. We've got to tackle better and stay on top it."

That's especially key this week. If YAC is a factor, it could be a long day. The Giants rank sixth in the NFL in passing and have one of the best receivers in Odell Beckham.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 16: Odell Beckham #13 of the New York Giants makes a catch against Will Davis #31 of the Baltimore Ravens during their game at MetLife Stadium on October 16, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

"Odell does a great job on run after the catch," safety George Iloka said. "The thing is, as a secondary we have to contest every throw and every catch. If they make catches, tackle them right away.

"That's your job as a defender, especially in the secondary."

Offensively, the Bengals have moved the ball well enough to be better than 3-4-1. The Bengals are sixth overall in yardage in the NFL in offense. But they haven't been good at converting yards to points. They rank 21st in the league in points per game.

A big factor: they're 22nd in third-down efficiency. That should improve with Tyler Eifert back full speed.

The running game has come on since a slow start.

"With us, it was kind of what happens with a lot of NFL teams -- game flow," running back Jeremy Hill said. "You get down by a few points, and you've got to throw the ball. We got down in that Pittsburgh game. The Jets game was back and forth. We didn't put an emphasis on running the ball.

"(Defensive coordinator Ken Zampese) talked to us and said we need to put an emphasis on this. We responded. The offensive line responded. Gio (Bernard) and I have done a good job. We've got to continue it."

The formula to win in the AFC North is to run the ball well and play good defense. The Bengals have got half of that going.

"We're starting to get players back," Peko said. "Eifert's back. We signed Gilberry. We've got the old men on the line back together. I'm excited for where we are. We're only one game back in our division. Everything is right ahead of us. All we got to do is start winning. It starts Monday night up in New York."