CINCINNATI — The Bengals’ struggles in kick coverage were present well before Denver returner Trindon Holliday ripped off a 105-yard touchdown in the Broncos’ 31-23 victory on Sunday.
The Bengals rank 29th of 32 NFL teams in yards allowed per kickoff return (29.1), an area in which they ranked third (20.8) last season.
“The fact that we have four rookies on there now, that’s a little bit of a change,” special teams coach Darrin Simmons said when asked about the unit’s struggles at the midway point of the season.
“Plus. I think we faced a heck of a bunch of kick returners a bunch of weeks in a row. I looked at it. I studied it hard through the bye. We came up with a couple little things and made things simpler than what we had been doing. Simpler reads, simpler positions that we were in. We still didn’t make the play.”
Holliday’s touchdown, which gave the Broncos a 17-3 lead 11 seconds into the second half, equaled the longest play against the Bengals in franchise history and marked the fourth game in a row in which Cincinnati has allowed an average of 30 yards per return. It also was the third game in a row in which the team gave up a return of at least 41 yards.
“It’s just a matter of getting a couple of these young guys better and a couple of our veteran players need to make more plays,” Simmons said.
But it hasn’t all been bad news for the special teams. Brandon Tate nearly broke a couple kick returns against Denver. He finished with three returns for 105 yards, increasing his season average to 25.7, which ranks seventh in the NFL among players averaging at least two returns per game.
In his past three games, Tate has eight returns for 275 yards (34.4 average). As a unit, the Bengals are averaging 24.3 yards this season, which ranks 16th in the league, up from 24th last year.
“I’m encouraged by where it’s at,” Simmons said. “(Tate) has been making plays there. He made plays against Pittsburgh. He made a couple more the other night. So that is a big positive, because we had not done well.
“We’ve gotten hotter, though, in the past couple of weeks and it’s got to continue. I am encouraged by it. We’re real close there.”
The Bengals rank seventh in the NFL in punt return average (11.5), mainly because of the aftereffects from Adam Jones’ 81-yard touchdown in week two against Cleveland. And the punt-coverage unit ranks 11th (8.1).
Giants safety downplays Green’s comments
Bengals receiver A.J. Green created some controversy for Sunday’s game against the Giants in a radio interview with WFAN in New York, saying there are areas to exploit in the Giants’ defense.
“I feel like they’ve got a lot of holes in their defense,” Green said.
Green had praised the play of the Giants’ defensive line before making his comment about holes in the defense, which obviously was a reference to the secondary.
“You don’t worry about it,” Giants safety Antrel Rolle said of Green’s comments. “I’m a deep safety. I’m going to play my responsibility and if I get a chance, I’m coming across.”