- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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If you haven't noticed by now this is the offseason -- a time of year when every publication and outlet that covers football in some capacity has rankings on just about every subject imaginable.
We've had our share on ESPN.com all spring, and certainly will have more the next several weeks as the march toward training camp continues.
Some of the best rankings you'll read this offseason are compiled by Mike Tanier & Co. of Sports on Earth. They use various metrics, film study and common sense to reach their conclusions. For the past month they've unveiled a different type of ranking each Monday. This week's rankings broke down the best secondaries in the league.
It was no surprise that Seattle's indomitable group finished first. But who was No. 2?
The Cincinnati Bengals.
Which brings us to Tuesday's factoid: 7.58.
As is the case with many of our factoids, we could use multiple numbers to highlight the points we're trying to make, and we will. But for starters, the 7.58 represents the average number of yards per play the Bengals' defensive backs allowed last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That ranked as the third-lowest figure among secondary groups. Cleveland's defensive backs led the way allowing just 7.39 yards per play, and Seattle's were No. 2, allowing 7.42.
When you think about the fact that Cleveland has the likes of $68 million man Joe Haden anchoring its secondary and Seattle has arguably the game's best cornerback in Richard Sherman, then its kind of eye-popping to see how well the Bengals and their mix of less recognized veterans and youngsters performed so well last season.
As Tanier points out, it's even more notable when you realize the Bengals lost their top pass-rusher last season when defensive tackle Geno Atkins went down midseason with an ACL tear. Even though Atkins' replacements performed admirably enough, added pressure was placed upon the safeties and corners to make sure they locked down their receivers. As part of previous defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's scheme, playing tight man defense was virtually seen as a rite of passage.
Even though Paul Guenther is taking over for Zimmer, very little about the defense's setup will change this year, including the style of one-on-one play on the outside. That's one of the biggest reasons why Cincinnati jumped in the first round to draft Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard at 24th overall. He was lauded as the best lockdown cornerback in the draft.
Along with Atkins' injury, other injuries forced the Bengals to play much of the year with a mixed bag at cornerback. The Bengals' highest-paid cornerback, Leon Hall, was lost for the year in Week 7 with an Achilles tear that came after he bounced back and forth between active and inactive status for the first few weeks due to hamstring injuries. Adam Jones also dealt with a tender hamstring early in the season, and Terence Newman missed the last three games with a knee injury. Like Hall and Atkins, safety Taylor Mays missed the last half of the season with an injury.
Backup Dre Kirkpatrick filled in just well enough for the corners who missed time, and veteran Chris Crocker came out of retirement for the second straight year as an in-season plug-and-play option at both safety and corner. The ragtag nature of the Bengals' secondary due to the injuries made their success even more respectable.
In addition to its low yards-per-play average, Cincinnati's secondary also ranked third in first downs allowed. The group gave up 146, which was just over the 145 Seattle's secondary allowed, and the 142 Carolina's secondary gave up. When it came to turnovers by the secondary, the Bengals ranked fourth.
Sports on Earth used its multilayered approach to rank the league's top secondaries, but advanced stats from last season seem to prove their point regarding the Bengals, too. Will Cincinnati have one of the top secondaries this season? It'll be another two months before we start finding out.