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3 Tuesday Bengals Takeaways/Fixes: Need Atkins back; run more; too many reps for Ross

Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals)
Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals)
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CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Each Tuesday throughout the Bengals season I provide three takeaways from Monday press conference/media availabilities in response to what occurred in the previous Sunday's game, but with the Bengals having played last Thursday here are three things that can or should happen that may turn the team's fortunes around:

The return of a couple of key defensive players

The Skinny: Starting defensive tackle Geno Atkins and safety Shawn Williams each missed the two games due to injury and defensive tackle Mike Daniels missed Thursday's game at Cleveland.

It probably isn't a coincidence that the Browns rushed for 215 yards after the Los Angeles Chargers rolled up 155 in the opener.

While the Bengals tried to upgrade the run defense with the offseason signing of free agent defensive tackle D.J. Reader and safety Vonn Bell, they still need Atkins, who is the only Pro Bowl caliber player on the defense.

Getting Williams back may also allow defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo to play Bell as a second linebacker at times, which would make the defense more athletic.

Keep in mind that the defense improved significantly against the run as last season progressed. After allowing four of their first seven opponents to rush for 200 yards or more, they held the last eight opponents to an average of just 117.5 yards per game rushing.

The additions of Reader and Bell should have helped them get even better at stopping the run, but it can't come at the expense of not having Atkins or Bell, and the veteran Daniels would be the first sub at tackle, too, so his absence shouldn't be taken lightly either.

Run the ball more to take the pressure off the offensive line to pass block

The Skinny: Much has been made of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow being under constant pressure the first two games, but that's going to happen when the offense isn't in good down-and-distance situations and because Burrow dropped back to pass 103 times (six of which he was sacked).

According to ESPN's "Win Rate" rankings via NFL Next Gen Stats, the Bengals offensive line actually ranks 21st in the NFL in sustaining its pass blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer.

That's not great by any means, but it could be improved perhaps by running the ball more often, and more efficiently.

Look, there are no quick fixes on the roster to make the line better. However, keep in mind that right tackle Bobby Hart, center Trey Hopkins and guards Michael Jordan and Billy Price were part of last year's offensive line that over the final eight games paved the way for the team to average 130.1 yards per game rushing. The line also allowed only 19 sacks over the final eight games after allowing 29 in the first eight games and a big reason is because the Bengals ran the ball more often the second half of the season (11 per game more often on average).

In the first two games of the season if Burrow's rushing attempts are taken out of the equation (the majority of his 15 rushes have been scrambles) the Bengals had just 37 total rushes.

Get that number closer to 30 times per game and it should make the offense better, help take the pressure off the line to pass block so much and keep Burrow from getting killed.

Give John Ross' reps to someone else

The Skinny: While Ross may be the team's best downfield threat it's come to the point where his lack of consistency and inability to get open are glaring.

In the first two games he was targeted seven times and had just two receptions for 17 yards. He did that despite playing 85 of a possible 155 offensive snaps in the first two games, which is 54.8 percent of the snaps.

Give rookie Tee Higgins or Auden Tate more snaps in place of Ross. Neither has anywhere near the speed of Ross, but as long as the Bengals are going to utilize more of a short passing game then use the more big-bodied receivers like Higgins and Tate, who proved more than capable last season, but was inexplicably made inactive for the Browns game.

Ross is probably going to have a big game somewhere along the way, but he's just not consistent enough to wait for it to happen.

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If head coach Zac Taylor wants to give Ross 10-15 reps a game and try to hit a home run or two that's fine, but anything more than that just seems like a wasted rep.

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