The Cincinnati Bengals‘ secondary continued to impress any who watched it last week against the San Diego Chargers. Despite facing off against the toughest of tests at the wide receiver position, as the team’s diminutive cornerback corps was over-matched physically against the Chargers’ giant wide receivers, the Bengals limited the Chargers to just two field goals.
Danario Alexander managed to crack 100 yards, 102 to be precise, on six receptions, while Malcolm Floyd also added four receptions for 61 yards. Antonio Gates was limited to 49 yards despite racking up six receptions of his own also. Even though they all contributed to Philip Rivers‘ 280 yard day, not one of the players could come free in the endzone. Instead, Bengals’ safety Reggie Nelson came up with the game-sealing interception and the Bengals’ secondary shut the Chargers out of the endzone.
Having handled the vertical challenge of the Chargers’ receivers, they now must deal with the overwhelmingly talented and physically gifted Dez Bryant. Bryant hasn’t always been at his best for the Dallas Cowboys, in fact more often than not he has been at his worst. However, in recent weeks they have received reminder after reminder of why they drafted the troubled receiver a few years back. Bryant has become a complete game-changer for the Cowboys.
While the Bengals have established a four game win streak since Week 9, Bryant has dominated every cornerback assigned to cover him since that point. Bryant has 29 receptions for 475 yards and six touchdowns. At just 24 years of age, this may be the beginning of Bryant’s career as he finally appears to have figured out how to best use his undeniable physical talents. Bryant is averaging 118.75 yards per game during this stretch, on 7.25 receptions per game. There is no doubt that he is the focal point of the passing attack.
The problem for the Chargers in dealing with Bryant isn’t his height, he stands at just 6’2, as much as it is his ability to overpower defenders with his girth and outrun them with his speed. Clearly the Bengals’ best coverage cornerback is Leon Hall, but Hall may be better suited to covering Miles Austin. That would leave former Cowboys’ star Terence Newman to cover Bryant. Newman would have the physicality to fight him at the line of scrimmage, but it would be asking a lot of him to stick with the much younger receiver down the field or in space.
Newman is playing very good football this season, but the Bengals will likely flip their coverage towards his side of the field when he is going against Bryant. That likely would expose the team to the abilities of Jason Witten. Witten, a tight end, is much more consistent than Bryant and can move his offense down the field with ease, but he doesn’t have the same explosive aspects to his game that Bryan does. The likelihood is that the Bengals will be forced to concede much of the field, before squeezing the space closer to the redzone and nullifying the threat of Witten and Bryant by taking away the space for them to work in.
Of course, the duo are still big physical bodies, but the Bengals have tough coverage players of their own who won’t be intimidated by their presences in tight areas.