The ferocious front-four for Cincinnati gets a lot of credit. Why? Because all of that credit is due.
However, at times, the Bengals’ solid secondary tends to get lost in the hype of the two-headed monster known as Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson.
Reggie Nelson improved to No. 99 on Pro Football Focus’ top 100 NFL players. He was one of just three Cincinnati players ranked. (The others were A.J. Green and Geno Atkins.)
Honestly, other than one play against Cleveland where Nelson got burned on play-action, can you recall a major poor decision by him? He’s held up the back-end of the Bengals defense since being traded from Jacksonville to Cincinnati, and his stellar 2012 season saw him ranked as the fourth best safety in the NFL, allowing just 231 yards into his coverage, according to SB Nation.
He also lined up in the box on 34.1% of the time, showing his flexibility as a player, and the coach’s confidence in how aggressive Nelson is.
The sidelines, anchored down largely by cornerbacks Leon Hall and Terrence Newman, also saw receivers have a very difficult time.
Not to knock the veteran Newman, but I’d like to focus on Hall. After suffering a torn Achilles in 2011, Cincinnati visibly struggled in the second half of the year to lock down opposing receivers.
Many fans, including me, worried about Leon Halls’ health in when he returned last season. Personally, I was curious as to if we would see the same production from our star cornerback that we had for the previous seasons.
As far as tackles, it was a bit of a drop from his average per year. However, it was the timing of the plays that he made that helped Cincinnati so much. An interception returned for a touchdown helped seal Cincinnati’s win in Heinz Field that propelled them into the postseason last year.
Then, in Houston for the Wild Card game, it was Leon Hall that provided over half of the Bengals scoring with a pic-six in the first half. Really, it was only because of him that the Bengals were able to stick around in the game until the end.
So when we consider the scary defense of Cincinnati, we can’t just mention names like Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson anymore. Not after last year. While those two made huge names for themselves, the secondary was quietly on lockdown alert, making a passing quarterback think twice before releasing the football. And when you see the No. 7 ranking in pass defense that Cincinnati boasted last season, compared to a No. 12 rushing defense, maybe it’ll hit you like it did me.
So what part of our defense is really the best? I’m not going to make that comparison because I really don’t know. However, it’s a darn good problem to have.