Aug 28, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals free safety Taylor Mays (26) prior to the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Tonight when the Bengals square off with the AFC West champion Denver Broncos, they will likely be doing so without the services of linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. Although Lamur has struggled to perform this year the way many expected the promising linebacker to, he remains the team’s best coverage linebacker with Vontaze Burfict sidelined for the year.
This week, the Bengals will face yet another dangerous tight end in the Broncos’ Julius Thomas. Dealing with Thomas can be difficult as he possesses a rare combination of size, speed, and great hands. As a former college basketball player, Thomas possesses great leaping ability as well, which makes him one of the more difficult redzone targets to cover; it’s also why Thomas is amongst the league’s leaders in touchdown catches (12) and why he is a favorite target of Peyton Manning. With Emmanuel Lamur likely missing tonight’s game due to a hamstring injury, the Bengals will likely turn to a familiar face in Taylor Mays.
In 2013, Lamur went down in the preseason with a season-ending shoulder injury. His injury, along with the Sean Porter‘s season-ending injury, forced Mays into the nickel linebacker role. Mays had always struggled to fulfill his promise as an NFL safety, but found success in his new role within the linebacking unit. After being unexpectantly thrust into the unfamiliar role, Mays was given a crash course in coverage linebacker duties. For the first seven weeks of 2013, Mays played well in his new position and began garnering the support of both fans and coaches alike. Unfortunately in Week Eight, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury of his own.
This year, Taylor Mays has returned to his primary responsibilities within the special teams unit. Considering the Bengals’ struggles with covering pass-catching tight ends, as a fan myself, I had hoped the team would continue to utilize Mays as a linebacker this year in an effort to see if he could continue to build on the promise he displayed in 2013. Thus far, the Bengals haven’t chosen to do so, but, nonetheless, Mays will likely receive another opportunity at the role and within an extremely pivotal moment for the team.
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If Mays can produce the kind of results we saw from him in 2013 against the likes of Julius Thomas, the Bengals would benefit from a huge advantage in this evening’s game. Consider this, the Broncos have 48 total touchdowns this year and Julius Thomas has 12 of them. That’s a quarter of the team’s touchdowns for the year and nearly a third of Peyton Manning’s 37 passing touchdowns in 2014.
Stopping Julius Thomas won’t automatically equate a victory for the Bengals. But if Mays can function well “on an island” and keep Thomas out of the endzone, it’ll allow the rest of the Bengals’ defense to focus on limiting the impact of Peyton Manning during this affair. The Broncos possess the league’s fourth highest scoring offense at 29.1 points per game. The Bengals simply cannot afford to get into a shootout with such a potent offense. If they are able to keep the Broncos out of the endzone and turn this into a “grind it out” affair, the Bengals will have a great opportunity to lock up a playoff spot tonight. Taylor Mays’ matchup with Julius Thomas may well decide if this game turns into a defensive struggle or a shootout, and this will likely determine the chances of the Bengals’ coming away from tonight with a secured playoff spot.