As the rain began to fall in Everbank Stadium on Sunday, the Bengals wrapped up their third win of the season, this time against the Jaguars. What is most impressive about their 3-1 record is the way that their game planning has continually improved to maximize their makeshift personnel.
Newly-signed Chris Crocker was reunited with the team as Chris Lewis-Harris was promoted from the practice squad to alleviate the Bengals’ cornerbacks, of which only Terrance Newman and Adam Jones were available. The run game was also worrisome for the Bengals, not only their own struggling attack but the dangers that Maurice Jones-Drew presented to the Bengals’ linebacking corps.
In the end, the Bengals were able to emerge with a 27-10 win, their third straight, to improve to 3-1 to keep pace with the division-leading Ravens. They were able to maximize the personnel they had available through another well-designed game plan that maximized their personnel.
Marvin Lewis, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer deserve much of the credit for this win, but several Bengals were also indispensible to Cincinnati ruining a day in which Fred Taylor was added to the Jaguars’ ring of honor.
Let’s look at how the Bengals rained on the Jaguars’ big day.
Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson: Reunited and it Feels So Good
Even though Chris Crocker was added to the Bengals as a reaction to their depleted cornerbacks, his coverage was no more important than the way he was able to elevate the play of ex-Jaguar Reggie Nelson. With Crocker able to play in more of a free-safety style high and in the middle, Nelson saw extended time underneath for the first time this season. He thrived in his return to the role which he played in the Bengals’ top-ten defense of the past two seasons.
Blitzing, run support, and underneath pass coverage are all strengths to Nelson’s game. So far this season, with Taylor Mays and Jeromy Miles as his fellow safeties, he was forced to play almost exclusively over the top. When he finally returned to his comfort zone, he was able to give a boost to the run defense.
In the play above, Nelson diagnosis a running play and provides support on the edge, not allowing a run to be bounced outside for a large gain. This has been a sore subject for the Bengals this season, but with Nelson in run support the Bengals held Jones-Drew to 38 yards and a 2.92 average.
In the screen pass above, Nelson immediately diagnosis the play and runs up to make the tackle. With middle linebacker Rey Maualuga struggling in every facet of his position, Nelson’s run-support and controlled chaos gave the Bengals a huge boost in the area that had haunted them through three games.
Crocker played excellent in coverage all game. His interception was a direct result of instinctive, heads-up play. He and Nelson were both playing over the top, and when Gabbert lofted a pass over Jones’ head, Crocker broke on the ball and took a great angle to make the interception. Less recognized was Crocker’s coverage on several sideline and underneath routes on Justin Blackmon to limit what could have been huge gains by the rookie receiver.