Morning Stripes: Defense the difference

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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We're beginning to sense a trend around here.

In case you have somehow missed that trend the past three weeks, here it is: The Cincinnati Bengals' defense is pretty good.

It's not just pretty good, either. It's one of the best in the NFL this season. If it continues to put up performances like the one in Sunday's 13-6 win over the New England Patriots, heck, we might have to start making comparisons between it and some of the greatest defenses of all time.

OK, maybe we're not there quite yet. Slow down just a little.

Strangely enough, though, after five weeks, the Bengals don't yet rank in the top 5 in the league in total defense, but they are getting close. Cincinnati's No. 8 total defense ranking (entering Monday's game between the Jets and Falcons) is evident in the 316.8 yards of offense it allows on average. It's amazing to note that there are actually 11 other teams who are allowing fewer passing yards on average, too. Particularly because it seems like the Bengals have been the best in the league at defending opposing air attacks all season.

And it's not like they've had a quarterback cakewalk, either. They've gone through a modern-day gauntlet: Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and now Tom Brady. They beat the last three; all of whom have Super Bowl rings. Last season, they beat two more quarterbacks who currently have Super Bowl wins, too, in Eli Manning and Joe Flacco. In that same stretch of wins, the Bengals also have a league-best 19-game streak of not allowing an opposing quarterback to pass for more than 300 yards.

Head coach Marvin Lewis is so infatuated with his defense's recent style of play that he gave defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer Sunday's game ball. By most accounts, that was just the third game ball he's awarded in his 11 years in Cincinnati, and the second that Zimmer has received in five seasons. The other was awarded following a win that came just days after Zimmer's wife died in 2009.

Because of the way Zimmer keeps making his defense the difference-maker on this team, you have to imagine that head-coaching call is going to finally come for him this offseason. It has to, right?

Here are the post-win, Monday Morning Stripes:
  • OK, we teased it enough. You'll notice that the trend in this morning's stripes all have to do with defense. Here's Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson with his take on Cincinnati's D and how well the unit was able to perform despite conditions named Mother Nature and Brady.
  • Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty wrote about the defense as well, and how the unit had the perfect Zimmer-created plan to push back against the Patriots. Like Daugherty notes, there weren't very many players in the locker room who wanted to divulge the secrets of the winning plan, but needless to say, they all felt like they knew what the Patriots were going to run, and they knew just what to do to counter those plays. The Bengals felt well prepared.
  • Zimmer may not have been the only one who deserved a game ball Sunday. In the words of defensive tackle Domata Peko, perhaps the "good Lord" deserved one, too. The Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr. wrote about the deluge of rain that showed up just in time for New England's final drive, making it hard for players to see and catch passes. The Patriots, down a score with time running out, had no choice but to go to the air. "The good Lord gave us that monsoon," Peko said. "Shoot, you couldn't see nothing. Guys were dropping balls. The raindrops were huge."
  • Make sure you also check out ESPN's NFL Nation postgame coverage of the Bengals' victory. Not only do we go into the real difference-makers on defense -- the veteran backups -- but we also take a look at where Cincinnati ought to go from here as a team.
  • Finally, don't want to veer too far off the field, but it bears noting that Monday begins Adam Jones' trial for a late-June assault charge. Here, the Associated Press previews it. A 34-year-old woman said Jones hit her at a downtown Cincinnati nightclub. He plead not guilty. Jones, who caught the game-icing interception of Brady on Sunday, has been in off-field trouble before. The NFL will be keeping an eye on the trial. Jones could be suspended for violating the league's player-conduct policy.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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