Wounded Bengals Have Survived Nasty Jungle Thus Far
By Joe Sorensen
While every team in the NFL has to deal with injuries at some point of the season, it is usually better knowing when a key player will be returning to the field. Unfortunately, there are players who cannot make it back. Season-ending injuries are devastating for all franchises, but it is how a team replaces the key cogs and moves on without them that will have effect the outcome of its season. The Cincinnati Bengals have done their job to replace key players all season long.
By far, the biggest of the season-ending injuries was the loss of DT Geno Atkins. The All-Pro defensive lineman had six sacks in a little over eight games before tearing his ACL during the first half against the Miami Dolphins on October 31. The fourth-year player recorded an unprecedented 12.5 sacks last season to lead all NFL defensive tackles. Fortunately for Atkins, he signed a big contract extension with the Bengals before the season, keeping him in an orange and black uniform through 2018. The defensive line has stepped up in his absence, recording nine sacks in the last two games against the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens. Going forward, the defense needs to keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks to help the injured secondary.
After losing both S Taylor Mays and CB Leon Hall for the season, the secondary has also dealt with its fair share of adversity. While Mays was more of a rotational player for the secondary before dislocating his shoulder against the New York Jets, he had 19 tackles and three pass deflections. Hall – who tore his Achilles for the second time – was their top cornerback, a leader of the defense and obviously a much bigger loss. He had one interception that he returned for a touchdown along with seven pass deflections and 20 tackles. In his absence, DBs Terence Newman and Adam Jones have played exceptionally. In the last two games, the defense has allowed a total of 222 passing yards.
Looking ahead, MLB Rey Maualuga should be returning to the field soon after leaving the Jets game with a knee injury. The second-leading tackler on the team should return to a deeper linebacker corps when he is healthy since Vincent Rey has stepped up in his absence and been a pleasant surprise. In three games since Maualuga’s injury, Rey had 22 tackles, three sacks and an interception. When Maualuga returns, there should be no reason for him to play every down. When both are healthy, Rey and (well, Rey) should be splitting time at the middle linebacker position.
While certain injuries can be detrimental to the team, some can allow other players to show their talents or step up. It is never a good thing to see a player get injured – especially if it is a season-ending one –but it is a part of the game and needs to be handled accordingly. Due in large part to the way they have handled the injury bug thus far, the Bengals should have enough depth and talent to continue playing defense at a high level the remainder of the season.