Are the Bengals’ Safeties the League’s Most Underrated?
Oct 26, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro (15) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals strong safety George Iloka (43) during the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
If you don’t know George Iloka after this week, then you have probably been under a rock for the past 48 hours. He is a vital part of the Bengals’ safety duo along with the seven-year veteran, Reggie Nelson. They have combined for four interceptions, nine pass deflections, and 84 combined tackles. Typically, the Bengals were known for their pass-rush, with guys like Geno Atkins, and their run defense, led by Vontaze Burfict, but little attention has been paid to the guys who have been successful taking away the deep ball.
George Iloka was a fifth round pick out of Boise State for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012. He has already passed his interception total from last year with two interceptions and is close to passing the six pass deflections he had last year. It is safe to say he is having a great year. Unfortunately the national media and fans will most often note Iloka for the offensive pass interference call against Steve Smith this past week when Iloka was pulled to the side by Smith before he ultimately caught the ball and ran into the end zone. The play ultimately did not count, and the Bengals held on to the 27-24 win in Week Eight. Iloka’s contributions have clearly gone beyond such a controversial play evidenced by his numbers to date this year.
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Reggie Nelson was a first round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007 out of Florida. He has already matched his 2013 number in interceptions with two and is working on proving that he still has a few good years left. He has been a strong part of the Bengals pass-rush this season with 1.5 sacks, the most since 2011 for him. His interception against the Tennessee Titans kept them out of the endzone when they were “on the doorstep.” This while he is on pace to set a career high in tackles. He has taken advantage of opportunities in all seven games so far and has been a pivotal part of the Bengals’ defensive backfield.
Nelson’s experience has no doubt played a key role in Iloka’s development, and with his skill and talent, combined with Iloka’s quick closing speed, the Bengals’ core of safeties will be important in stopping the upcoming passing game of the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos. It will be exciting to see what this revitalized team can do, now that they have worked out a few bugs.