Bengals News

Bengals: Vonn Bell is beginning to settle into his role as a tone-setter

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 17: Nick Chubb #24 of the Cleveland Browns breaks through the tackle of Vonn Bell #24 of the Cincinnati Bengals for an 11-yard touchdown run in the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 17, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 17: Nick Chubb #24 of the Cleveland Browns breaks through the tackle of Vonn Bell #24 of the Cincinnati Bengals for an 11-yard touchdown run in the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 17, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /
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Safety Vonn Bell, a prized free-agent acquisition, is beginning to settle in for the Cincinnati Bengals despite the prevalent defensive issues as a whole.

Sunday was a tough afternoon for the Bengals at Heinz Field. The Steelers continued on their unbeaten charge putting up 36 points on a lackluster Cincy defense. The struggles were clear for all to see but safety Vonn Bell continued to show why he can become an important piece of this team going forward.

Bell was deemed a cap casualty by the Saints this offseason. With the burden of a bloated veteran QB contract and several stars needing pay raises, Bell missed the cut. It allowed him to sign a three-year deal in the Queen City, totaling $18M, making him the 21st highest-paid safety in the league.

Coming into a rebuilding franchise is always difficult. Especially when the defense has suffered numerous injuries, leading to multiple high scores being posted against them. One aspect that has been a positive for Bell, however, is his leadership.

Despite only being 25 years old and new to the locker room, Bell immediately stood out as one of the figureheads on defense. Having lost Dre Kirkpatrick in the offseason, the two most talented players in the Bengals secondary, Jessie Bates and William Jackson are still on their rookie deals, meaning Bell’s experience in the league was more than welcome.

Being used more aggressively by Lou Anarumo should benefit Vonn Bell

Bell has done his best to lead the defense but even his performances haven’t been stellar so far. PFF grades him at 58.3 overall and while his run defense has been solid, it is offset by sub-par pass coverage. So far he has contributed 61 tackles, four pass deflections, and three QB hits.

However, against the Steelers, it was clear what Bell’s best role was and how he was beginning to grow into it. Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo had been urged to become more exotic and Bell was clearly a part of that plan vs the Steelers.

Bell was sent as an extra blitzer seven times, nearly 10% of all his snaps. This was up from his previous highest tally, four, against the Browns in Week two. While James Connor did a good job preventing Bell from getting a sack, he did record two QB hits against Big Ben. Those hits came on important downs leading to an incompletion and a stop on third down.

In addition to that, Bell showed on two occasions his ability to cleanly tackle in open space. It’s been a recurring issue for the Bengals for too long now but Bell has bags of speed going downhill and wrapped up Connor for short gains both times. From the box, Bell acts as a de-facto linebacker in the nickel formation, adding athleticism to the front seven, something sorely missing in previous seasons.

Pass coverage remains a concern, particularly in the red zone

That’s not to say that things were all positive against the Steelers. While Bell can hang in pass defense against the likes of tight end Eric Ebron, the Steelers did find ways to expose Bell’s deficiencies in coverage.

He was caught flat-footed in zone coverage against JuJu Smith-Schuster on the crossing route for the second touchdown. Additionally, he was beaten to a contested ball in the red zone by the physically imposing Chase Claypool later in the game.

So what’s the future for Bell in the Bengals defense? His contract offers the Bengals a way out at the end of the year. Should they decide to part ways, Cincy would only be on the hook for $2M.

The future at Safety should be bright with a Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates combo

That being said, it would appear Bell is finally settling into his role on defense and has become an important part of the team’s new nuclei of leaders. Bell answers a lot of the questions Bengals fans have been asking for a while now. He’s quick to close down on open runners, has the ability to cover tight ends, and maintains his status as a sure tackler, proving he has plenty to offer this team going forward.

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He will need to improve his coverage if he is to be considered a true all-around player at the position. However, paired with Jessie Bates, who has excelled as a ball-hawking deep safety, the Bengals could have one of the better safety tandems in the NFL for the 2021 season.

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