Andy Dalton’s injury last year came at the worst possible time. That’s not hyperbole. It’s not a phrase being used for dramatic effect. Dalton literally couldn’t have been hurt at a worse time for both he and the Cincinnati Bengals.
That Bengals team was at its peak. It was about to contend for a Super Bowl because everything had aligned perfectly on offense. Neither Marvin Jones nor Tyler Eifert were rookies anymore and both were fully healthy. Mohamed Sanu stopped dropping passes and instead thrived at pulling them in against tight coverage. A.J. Green was A.J. Green and the offensive line was arguably the best in the NFL because of its diversity.
In his wide receiving corps, Dalton had mismatch receivers no matter where he looked. Green is a mismatch regardless of who lines up across from him. Marvin Jones is talented enough to be the best wide receiver on most teams but he was playing the role of the number two in this offense. Jones was the number two wide receiver but the number three option in reality. That is because Tyler Eifert enjoyed a breakout season where he proved to be an accuracy-erasing, uncoverable tight end approaching that elusive Rob Gronkowski level of effectiveness. Continue reading
Troy Polamalu will be a hall of famer one day. Polamalu, the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year, was one of the best players on a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that finished first in points allowed or yards allowed in five separate seasons. Dick LeBeau watched over that defense and he was the one who put Polamalu in positions to succeed every single year.
A key to Polamalu’s success was the play of Ryan Clark. Clark was Polamalu’s free safety. He cleaned up everything from a deep position while Polamalu wreaked havoc underneath.
Polamalu was in his prime less than a decade ago, yet in NFL terms it feels like a different era. Over the latter stages of his career, Polamalu struggled to make an impact on games because his athleticism began to decline slightly but the league also became better at exposing him. As a strong safety, Polamalu was never great in space. He excelled in tighter areas where he could take risks in coverage and still recover while using his physicality to take on blocks and take down running backs. Continue reading
Most wide receivers in the NFL rely on one specific area of their skill set to be effective. If you’re Alshon Jeffery, you have to win at the catch point, relying on your length, ball skills and strength to fend off defensive backs on deep balls. Whereas if you’re Julian Edelman, you avoid those situations by relying on your quickness and acceleration to find space.
If you go through every receiver in the league, you will likely be able to fit them into either category even if not perfectly.
The best receivers in the league are typically the guys who can do both. The shorter receivers who can still dominate their opponents at the catch point because of their athleticism and ball skills, Antonio Brown for example. Or the bigger receivers who possess the fluidity and quick feet to run routes like their counterparts who carry 20 or 30 fewer lbs, your Brandon Marshalls of the world. Continue reading
The face of the superstar cornerback you likely don’t know about. (Image courtesy of CBS)
Ever since he was drafted in 2007, Leon Hall has been one of the best players in the NFL who received the least amount of credit for his play. Hall and Jonathan Joseph were the Bengals’ two stars in the secondary for a very long time, but it was always Joseph who received more of the plaudits for his on-field play.
Joseph signed a big free agent contract to join the Houston Texans. That and his first season in Houston combined to bloat his reputation to even greater levels. While Joseph did deserve that credit because he has been an excellent player for the most part throughout his career also, Hall shouldn’t have flown under the radar.
Hall was the player the Bengals decided to invest in while knowing that they wouldn’t be able to retain both star cornerbacks. His versatility and durability were positives over Joseph, but his performance wasn’t lacking either.
The former Michigan prospect played just five games in 2013. He tore his Achilles tendon, something he had done in his other leg a few years back. It was a devastating blow for the Bengals, because it appears that Hall was enjoying another phenomenal season. Continue reading
When the Cincinnati Bengals franchised tagged Michael Johnson this off-season, they appeared to make their intentions known. Johnson was the team’s starting right defensive end, their second most important defensive linemen behind the exceptionally gifted Geno Atkins. Johnson played 923 snaps during last season and had 13 sacks. Production that would have made him a top target on the free agent market.
After giving Johnson the franchise tag, the expectation was that the Bengals would eventually sign him to a long-term deal. However, the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months before the deadline to sign tagged players passed and Johnson had no deal.
Even though Johnson remained unsigned, the Bengals do enough to lock down one of their other very talented young defensive ends, Carlos Dunlap. In comparison to Johnson, Dunlap was just a bit-part player last season, but his raw talent and relative youth allowed the Bengals to feel confident investing in his future. Dunlap signed a six-year deal worth $40 million, or in other words, starter money.
Although he’s not a constant on the field for the Bengals, it was no real surprise that the team was so willing to sign him. He was a second round pick in the 2010 draft and has notched an impressive 20 sacks in limited time during the three years since. Situational pass-rushers in today’s league can be valuable and even though Dunlap will be expected to become an all-around player as his career develops, it will be his ability to get to the quarterback that ultimately defines his career. Continue reading