One of the most fascinating things that I can’t seem to get over is the big plays coming from a lack of a big name defense.
In the AFC North, defenses have always ruled with a certain iron clad swagger that would make even the toughest offenses in the NFL soil their shorts. Household names like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Lamarr Woodley, Casey Hampton, Haloti Ngata, and even a name like Joe Haden has been getting plenty of buzz this year. But that’s exactly what makes our defense one like this league has not seen in years: the lack of a standout player and the lack of individual names being mentioned.
Some may call this a weak point, after all it’s because of names like Troy and Ray that we can imagine them as being Super Bowl winners and champions. But this has proven time and time again to fail teams when those players are lost to injury or being accounted for by the offense. When Troy has been injured in the past, I have seen a team that looks semi lost in identity. So many plays revolve around moving him around and using him as a wrecking ball that can break up the trickiest of plays. When any other of these big name athletes are taken out of their element for a play, it is highly noticeable that most of the defense suffers at their disappearance. It becomes very apparent at just how much as an individual the team needs them.
This happens to be the beauty of Zimmer’s defense, not one guy will really stand out to you. With a defensive line that consists of not only the starting four but also an additional four who salivate on the sidelines just waiting for their moment to cause mayhem on the field. The sacks are distributed so evenly you could lose one guy and seemingly not miss a beat. At positions where the Bengals defense is knowingly weak, the other positions have been worked in to compensate for their loss. Effective blitzes to take away the QB’s ability to target our nickel DB effectively and our safeties. Even when players like Maualuga went down, Skuta has stepped in and performed very well in the wake of his absence.
On a side note we could also sit here and argue all we want on the effectiveness of Skuta (and I’m sure I’ll feel some backlash for supporting him) and other individual positions but the point is that when Rey and other players have been out for a couple of weeks the defense has still functioned at a top ten level. Keep in mind this is the same defense that supposedly was a part of the worst team in the NFL.
Come later in November and carrying well into December, the weather will begin to turn cold again. The season will drag on and naturally players will begin to wear down and injuries will start to occur more. It is the teams with the greatest strength as a whole unit that will succeed, not the individual superstars that most of the media likes to latch on to and suckle on. Maybe it comes with the underdog mentality but the words “scrappy bunch” conjures up images of a team that will find a way to win with the tools they have. This is Zimmer’s legacy.