Is The Bengals Secondary Playing The Best In The NFL?


The Bengals secondary is having another dominant year so far. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first three weeks of the NFL season, no team has dominated their competition more than the Cincinnati Bengals. In 180 minutes of play, the Bengals have only trailed in a game for 48 seconds; an astounding number to think about. Many people claim the Bengals’ success weighs heavily on the improvements Hue Jackson has brought to this team, which is true; however there is a very underrated aspect as to why the Bengals have been as dominant. What is it? The secondary.

While the Bengals do not possess the top overall passing defense, how they have played on tape surely seems so. Looking merely from a statistical standpoint, the Bengals have six interceptions through the first three games. Before the Giants-Redskins game last night, that would make the Bengals tied for first in interceptions. Not only that, but quarterbacks average a rating of 56.9 against the Bengals’ secondary, which is best in the NFL. The Bengals lead the league in passes defended with 23 (again before the Giants-Redskins game). All this while having faced Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco, the high powered offensive attack in Atlanta, and the up-and-coming Titans.

Here’s some game analysis.  In the game against the Ravens, Joe Flacco threw for 181 of his 345 yards in the fourth quarter while also completing his lone touchdown pass, an 80-yarder to Steve Smith, in that frame. While allowing such plays in the fourth quarter is clearly a negative, it also shows how well the Bengals kept the Ravens passing offense in check to that point. Taking a look at the Falcons game, 125 of Matt Ryan’s 231 passing yards came after 11:01 in the 4th quarter while the score was 24-3. Also include that 57 of Julio Jones’ 88 receiving yards came during that same time period. Also of note, the Bengals have only given up passing touchdowns in the 4th quarter and quarterbacks have a 1:2 touchdown to interception ratio while playing the Bengals this year. So how is this possible?

On paper, every starter in the secondary besides safety George Iloka is a former first round pick. In fact, five of the six cornerbacks on the team are first round draft picks; the exception being backup Chris Lewis-Harris. Leon Hall is back from an Achilles’ injury and while he has not looked 100%, he is arguably the most underrated cornerback in the league. With quick hips and the ability to play the ball, Hall has kept everything in front of him and is playing at a very high level. Terence Newman is obviously the veteran of the group, but he definitely does not play like a 36-year-old. While he was picked on a few times, he always rebounds back by being even stronger and shows great recognition. Adam Jones appears to be the vocal leader of the group, and he has every right to be. He has shown the ability to get to where the ball is and can play both the slot and outside cornerback well. The Bengals also have Dre Kirkpatrick in the waiting dock along with 2014 first-rounder Darqueze Dennard. In 2013, Kirkpatrick was tied for the team’s interception lead (3) and Dennard has received high praise from coach Marvin Lewis.

One cannot overlook the safety play. Once Reggie Nelson was traded to Cincinnati, he revived his career by playing at a consistently high level. Arguably the best pass rushing secondary member on the team, Nelson also has a knack for being where the ball is and shows recognition while playing the zone. George Iloka is the only starter who is not a first rounder, but his play surely doesn’t show that. In 2013, Iloka was a solid starter showing he was deserving of the spot. In 2014, Iloka has been a ball-hawk and has elevated his performance level. He leads the team in interceptions and has played the deep ball very well by being in position to knock a pass away when need be.

Do the Bengals possess the best secondary in the league? Whether they do or don’t on paper, they sure are playing like it. Teams have had to pass against this team in an attempt to catch up and the secondary has held the lead while opposing teams do so. The Bengals have given up 376 passing yards in the fourth quarter this season, but two of those games provided a substantial amount of garbage time. What have the Bengals allowed in the first three quarters (of each game) for the season? A mere 342 passing yards. So in nine quarters of play, the Bengals have given up only 342 passing yards. Again, most of the 376 passing yards in the fourth quarter came when the game was already out of hand. What does this show? The Bengals secondary is playing at an extremely high level and is arguably playing the best in the NFL.