George Iloka Must Step Into Spotlight for Bengals Defense


Nov 6, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals strong safety George Iloka (43) against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium. The Browns won 24-3. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

George Iloka is having a fantastic season to date.  In year three, Iloka has become a leader, a force to be reckon with, and one of the league’s better safeties while leading the NFL in defensive snaps (per Sporting Charts); a stat which denotes the Bengals’ feelings about Iloka.  He’s become a player the Bengals can rely upon and look to during the hardest of moments.  Yesterday, the Bengals placed star linebacker Vontaze Burfict on the Injured Reserve list, which ended his season.  This means the Bengals will need others to step up and fill his void.  George Iloka must lead this effort.

Across 2014, George Iloka has established himself as a player to be feared by opposing defenses.  Much in that way that Burfict has done so often, Iloka has delivered some hits that would force any opposing offense to take note of where he is on the field.

It takes a big hit to take a guy of Jimmy Graham‘s size off his feet.  Much was made of the hit, but in the end, the league chose not to levy a fine on Iloka.  Also, for what it’s worth, Iloka later said that the referee told him the flag was unwarranted.  As an aside, another hit to note was the one he delivered to Cecil Shorts.

George Iloka has a clear intention when delivering hits like this as he illustrated in a statement following the Saints game.

"“I don’t want to see a guy get hurt, but that’s part of the game.  It was more (a help for us). There were a lot of things said after the Cleveland game as there should the way we came out. Guys came out with a chip on their shoulder. We were angry. (Mad) at ourselves. We wanted to come out there early and set the tone.”"

Every good defense manages to set the tone against opponents while clouding the minds of opposing receivers who concern themselves with the presence of hard-hitting defenders.  Vontaze Burfict typically makes himself responsible for this duty, but in his absence, George Iloka seems to have established himself as a great replacement.

But Vontaze Burfict’s void cannot simply be filled by delivering big hits.  Burfict also brings knowledge to the field as well as playmaking ability.  This knowledge is especially important in a “pass happy” league where quarterbacks audible all the time.  In his third year, George Iloka has proven he possesses this intelligence when he displayed this knowledge in the Bengals game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Iloka then displays his playmaking ability by making the interception, which saved a touchdown, on the same play.

It was an incredibly impressive display of awareness, knowledge, leadership, and skill.  It’s hardly the only play Iloka has made this year–another example would be the hit that caused the interception against the Titans–but the play really encompasses the importance of George Iloka within this defense.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, George Iloka brings accountability to the Bengals, which is something they desperately need. When holding others accountable, these statements can often be interpreted several ways.  But regardless of how others feel about it, George Iloka says what he feels and says it accurately.  Following the blowout loss to the Browns in Week 10, Iloka had this to say.

"“I think when it’s a prime time game we want to win so bad, when one thing goes wrong then some guys fold up and some guys are like (shoot), like damn. We put too much emphasis on it. When it’s not a prime time game and we get down we’re not nervous it’s like all right let’s fight our way back in it.”"

In a less “media savvy” moment, Iloka then did go on to call out Andy Dalton for his poor performance when commenting on his early interception in the game.  Many would’ve preferred the young safety to avoid pointing to any one particular player, but let’s be honest, when consistently underperforming in prime time, it’s only a matter of time before someone says it; it’s not much of a secret anyway.

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Regardless, Iloka wasn’t afraid to hold players accountable while expressing his displeasure.  This type of accountability is something the Bengals lack and need more of,  If they are to eradicate some of the inconsistency that has plagued them, players must be held accountable for inconsistent performance.

George Iloka has been one of the most impressive players for the Bengals this year.  He’s grown so much in three years time going from a little known fifth round pick, to a starting safety, to an emerging force.  Now when the Bengals are in most need, he must step up once more and become a leader for both this defense and the Bengals as a whole.