Bengals Organization Looking Like the Model of the League
The Cincinnati Bengals stymied Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons with defensive discipline on Sunday, especially from their cornerbacks.
The Bengal secondary not only covered well, collecting three interceptions on the day, but they also tackled proficiently. This kind of toughness is a luxury for defensive coaches as they can move linebackers and safeties closer to the line of scrimmage without worrying about a receiver getting loose on the outside after a broken tackle.
The Bengals defense was raised by former coordinator Mike Zimmer to be a disciplined unit where each member stays within his personal responsibility and trusts his teammates to do the same. Collectively, they frustrate offenses like the Falcons without showing much glitz and glamor at all. When watching them play, nothing appears dominant but at the same time, the opposition has been able do very little in terms of sustaining long scoring drives.
Yes, the secondary is long in the tooth with four key members in the 30-and-over club. They aren't the fastest or the biggest, they aren't of the shut-down variety of the position, but when a wide-receiver screen is tossed in their direction, they come up and make the play. It sounds simple enough, but because not enough corners can routinely make this kind of play is the reason the quick-hitting pass out to the flats has become such an offensive fad on every level of the game.
Julio Jones looked like a monster on the outside against New Orleans, as he shoved and muscled his way to first downs on a consistent basis against the Saints, but against Cincinnati, he racked up only a modest 88 yards on seven catches, most of those harmless outs for minimal damage.
Another luxury at the position the Bengals enjoy is having two first-round draft picks deep in the ranks behind so many veterans. Perhaps some might view this as wasted top draft picks who contribute primarily on special teams and have yet to earn the check that comes with their high draft status, but the fact remains that these youngsters are essentially apprentices who are eased into the role rather than trial by fire. Also, since the starters are of such vintage quality, these newbies provide insurance for when the bodies of the aged invariably break down.
The NFL is firmly in the greatest passing era of the game's history with records falling each year like the autumn leaves and the need to counter this attack becomes more paramount every season. Cincinnati has invested in the corner position with two recent first-round picks and has resisted casting away any of the veteran presence it has within their corner depth chart. As a result, it has sacrificed drafting many linebackers but have lucked out with terrific undrafted free-agents like Emmanuel Lemur and especially Vontaze Burfict.
In fact, team depth for the Bengals seems to be at an all-time high. Typically when a team loses it's top-three passing targets to injury, a high-profile defensive end and a talented left tackle (not to mention a long-time starting center), production drops off. Yet Cincinnati has showed a variety of attacks as the injuries mount and players become unavailable to them. Can't throw to A.J. Green? Throw to Brandon Tate instead. Lost the Law Firm in the offseason? Pound the rock with rookie Jeremy Hill and second-year dynamo Gio Bernard instead. Tired of seeing Dalton throw every pass? Give Mohamed Sanu a chance to chuck one downfield.
The rich stockpile of talent at just about every position, mixed with arguably even better coordinators than the previous regime has the Bengals organization looking like the model for the league. If teams face the same kind of effort the Falcons got from Bengal corners, Cincinnati should then become one of , if not the number one most difficult place to play in the league.
-Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor
Photo via the Cincinnati Bengals Facebook page