Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer has the Bengals atop the NFL stats boards in sacks with 17.0 recorded in the first four games. Further, defensive tackle Geno Atkins is a rising phenomenon and has already logged 5.0 of the Bengals current total, which puts him on track to eat 20.0 sack lunches this season should things keep pace. With defensive end Carlos Dunlap returning two weeks ago and pairing him with the menacing 6’7” Michael Johnson, the Cincinnati pass rush seems to be back to form after a slow first few outings. More importantly, the Bengals’ run defense put on a show last weekend, limiting last seasons League-leading rusher, Maurice Jones-Drew, to his season low; 38 yards on 13 carries. With rookies Brandon Thompson and Devon Still maturing behind Atkins and Domata Peko, the front four seem well anchored for the moment, granted the combined record of teams the Bengals have beaten is 3-9,
More towards the intangibles, the Bengals had to call up practice squad cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris as the team’s third and final defensive back due to depletions in the secondary last week against Jacksonville. While Leon Hall and rookie Dre Kirkpatrick look to be on the mend for this week’s game against Miami, veteran Nate Clements remains questionable. His status serves as a reminder of not only why the Bengals currently have nine cornerbacks between the active and injured reserve rosters, but also how dubious the Bengals are at Clements acclimatizing role as strong safety.
At the moment, the Taylor Mays project seems to be falling short of expectations. While it’s clear he can hit, his ability to hit the correct players or hit them in a legal fashion has been called into question in nearly every game that he has played in. Jeromy Miles looked like he was going to snag the starting job late in the pre-season, but blown coverages and poor route reads have shown that he’s not ready for the consistency of the starting job. That has left the Bengals dependant on Clements sliding over from corner, until last week when the Bengals swallowed some pride, went out and signed strong safety and veteran leader Chris Crocker.
While Crocker and that huge chip on his shoulder may be exactly what the Bengals’ secondary need to get through the rest of this season, it’s not a long term solution. At 33 years of age, Crocker has no illusions that this is very likely his last year in the NFL, and the Bengals must address this position in the off-season. As last year’s free agency indicated, a serviceable strong safety is a precious commodity, and lucky for Cincinnati, this year’s NFL Draft looks to have a very deep crop compared to recent memory. How much Taylor Mays redeems or crucifies himself in what remains of the season will be a firm indicator of how high of a pick the Bengals are willing to use to fix the position.