The Cincinnati Bengals have four cornerbacks on their roster who could be viewed as important players for Mike Zimmer’s defense. Starters Leon Hall and Terrance Newman, flexible cornerback come safety Nate Clements and fourth option Adam Jones. Of the four, just one of them stands at 6’0 or greater, Clements who is just 6’0. Hall is next at 5’11 while Jones and Newman are relative dwarves at 5’10.
Despite being vertically challenged, the Bengals defensive backs as a whole have proved to be outstanding as of late. The Bengals rank 15th in passing yards given up per game on the season, but the past three games have been very impressive for the defense as a whole against the pass. A difficult matchup against the Denver Broncos saw Peyton Manning throw for 291 yards, but he also threw two interceptions on a day when the Bengals’ pass rush was essentially non-existent.
In the two games since then, Eli Manning threw for 215 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, while Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn combined for just 188 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Even though you could describe Eli as being an erratic quarterback who does have games like that from time to time, Eli wasn’t the issue in Cincinnati. The Bengals took away his options with a good pass rush and excellent coverage. It’s obvious for all to see that Cassel and Quinn are not NFL caliber starting quarterbacks, but even the worst of quarterbacks can take advantage of favorable match-ups at this level. The Chiefs were supposed to have a favorable match-up with the 6’2 Dwayne Bowe. Bowe was only targeted twice, with no receptions, before leaving the game with a neck injury.
Hakeem Nicks may have had nine receptions against the Bengals two weeks ago, but those nine receptions only went for 75 yards while Hall almost completely shut down Victor Cruz. Cruz did have an opportunity for one big play that he dropped on the day, but that would still have only given the duo a combined 140 yards and a touchdown. Against Nicks and Cruz, that is still a very impressive outing.
The Bengals invested a lot in their secondary this off-season, but that investment hasn’t yet fully paid off either. Even though Newman has proved to be a very important free agent addition, it is a young rookie who really offers the potential for major improvement. Dre Kirkpatrick, the team’s first round pick and most physical cornerback who stands at 6’2, has been injured for most of the season and is only now beginning to become a part of the team. As the Bengals season continues to grow, and possibly extends in the post-season, Kirkpatrick could improve an already impressive group of defensive backs.
At the very least, he offers a new dynamic with his physical size and toughness. Then again, that would imply that the Bengals other cornerbacks are being found out in those areas, which they very much are not.