Six-Pack Of Who Dey: Taylor Mays, Anthony Collins And Argument For An Overrated Defense?

For those of you unfamiliar with the Six-Pack of Who Dey, this was once a regular weekly feature that would throw out six topics for consumption. We've largely abandoned it due to the nature of how much work is put into developing them. But throughout this week I decided to get one going (which I began writing Monday morning). It's more opinion than anything else surrounding issues and topics that are either the hot topics this week, or will be the hot topics or just random musings that are buried in the overall scope of things.

This week we examine spit-gate with Adam Jones. How Taylor Mays is coming along as Chris Crocker's eventual replacement (and why it needs to happen sooner rather than later). An argument that the defense might be overrated. Begging the team to do whatever it takes to keep Anthony Collins beyond this season and other things.

Let's get started.

+ TO SPIT OR NOT SPIT, THAT IS THE QUESTION. At some point during the scrum to recover the fumble that Rey Maualuga generated near the goalline, Bengals cornerback Adam Jones spit into Houston’s Lawrence Vickers face, so accused the sixth-year fullback to his coach after the play. We fired up the excellent Game Rewind service on NFL.com to review the play – which we’ve done countless times since Monday morning (we can practically recall from memory). But since our memory is facing seriously bad choices from high school, we reviewed the play again.

Adam Jones comes into view long after the scrum begins, with a casual (and civil-like) conversation with offensive lineman Duane Brown. At some point Jones meanders over to the pile, like a micromanager to getting an update. Feeling the necessity to help officials unwind a chaotic pile following the fumble, Jones yanks Texans’ running back Ben Tate’s leg in an effort to drag him out. Vickers, with an instinctual defense of one’s teammate, pushed Jones away from the pile.

Since Adam Jones isn’t the type to let a slight go unpunished, he quickly jumps into Vickers face when all of the sudden the fullback gives Jones a powerful shove (where we can assume if a loogie was launched, it happened there). A handful of Texans conspired around an official when Jones returns demanding that the official throws a flag. By this time the Bengals were awarded the fumble -- that would eventually result in a 97-yard touchdown drive -- and Adam Jones was pulled away from the confrontation by Brandon Johnson and Frostee Rucker.

Whether Jones spit or not isn’t definitive and the cornerback has yet to answer to the accusation that’s practically shut down the Houston Chronicle. As much as Vickers may be an upstanding citizen that’s apparently very spiritual, he could as much be covering his own indiscretions by shoving Jones by claiming something that no one has verified that happened. At the same time Jones’ history works against him because as one reader emailed me, "There’s no way that Jones could ever possibly do that, right?"

+ SPEAKING OF EMAILS FROM READERS. There are times I spend significant time getting into discussions, debates or find myself on the receiving end of a rant against the Bengals (and equally the number of praises for guys like Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis that’s scarce within the comments on these pages). And I love it. Many ideas generated are sometimes digested into an already well-established idea. One such case was a reader that sent me a lengthy email talking about how the Bengals defense isn’t that great, wanting us to take a look at it.

We pooled together two sets of statistics; taking an opposing team’s average when the Bengals faced that team and that team’s current average and corresponding ranking. For example the Buffalo Bills were ranked third in the NFL averaging 431 yards per game. Cincinnati limited Buffalo to only 273 yards. At the same time Cincinnati’s defense allowed opposing offenses to go above their averages at the point both squads met more times than not. For example the Seahawks sported the league’s 31st best offense, averaging 262.8 yards per game. Cincinnati’s defense allowed 411 yards during their week eight win over Seattle.

Yards Allowed Ranking (before game) Ranking (current)
1 - Browns 285 N/A 291.7 (29th)
2 - Broncos 318 310.0 (23rd) 317.1 (23rd)
3 - 49ers 226 207.5 (31st) 309.0 (26th)
4 - Bills 273 431.0 (3rd) 343.6 (15th)
5 - Jaguars 296 264.2 (31st) 260.1 (32nd)
6 - Colts 273 287.0 (30th) 283.4 (31st)
8 - Seahawks 411 262.8 (31st) 303.2 (27th)
9 - Titans 328 307.7 (25th) 323.5 (19th)
10 - Steelers 328 389.1 (9th) 371.6 (11th)
11 - Ravens 373 340.7 (15th) 346.0 (14th)
12 - Browns 274 298.1 (29th) 291.7 (29th)
13 - Steelers 295 374.5 (10th) 371.6 (11th)
14 - Texans 412 376.2 (10th) 378.9 (9th)

This doesn’t mean that Cincinnati’s defense is bad, per say. And frankly when you break it down, generic statistics are horrible ways to tell a game’s story. That being said the Steelers, Browns, Bills and Colts are the only teams that were unable to surpass their season average at the point both teams met.

One more thing before we move on and allow others to make their own judgments: Cincinnati has faced opposing offenses that were ranked 31st three times this year and ranked 23rd or worse in seven of their 13 games, which may factor into a growing believe Cincinnati’s defense is one of the best in the league.

Additionally Cincinnati has faced top-15 offenses in four of the past five games (all losses), allowing 352 yards in those games.

We’re not making judgments based on all that though.

+ THE ANTHONY COLLINS EFFECT. Consider this. The Cincinnati Bengals were 1-11-1 when a fourth round rookie named Anthony Collins was asked to make his first professional start at left tackle against the Pittsburgh Steelers during Thursday night football. His assignment was James Harrison, who would go on to win the Defensive Player of the Year that season, posting 16 quarterbacks sacks, seven forced fumbles, an interception and safety. By this point in the season, Harrison posted a quarterback sack in six of his previous seven games.

Compounding the overall issue is that reports surfaced earlier that week, following the tie against the Philadelphia Eagles, that neither Levi Jones nor Andrew Whitworth would be available. Not only did Collins shutdown the veracious James Harrison, the 2008 Defensive MVP was limited to a season-low three tackles (and one was an assist). Collins started the final six games in 2008 with the team going 3-3 and (indirectly) helping Cedric Benson explode into Cincinnati’s future offenses as the team’s feature back for the next three seasons.

This season Collins replaced the injured Andre Smith at right tackle, who left early against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 13. Not only has he adequately replaced Smith at right tackle, Pro Football Focus grades Collins as the team’s best offensive linemen in cumulative grades combining Cincinnati’s most recent games.

Is it too much of a stretch to beg the front office to sign Collins to a deal for 2012 and hang onto him as long as possible – especially if the oft-injured Smith remains the team’s starting right tackle?

+ DISAPPOINTMENT IN BERNARD SCOTT. There’s been such a deep desire to for backup running back Bernard Scott to explode into the league, replicating his impressive college career. This tick-generating obsession is often disregarded from the ultra-conservationism based on durability concerns even though Scott hasn’t actually missed a game in nearly two years (December 20, 2009).

But you can’t help but feel disappointed.

Truthfully there really isn’t a whole lot to be disappointing in with the player himself. In four of the past six games, Scott averaged over four yards rushing per carry. The two games that he didn’t average over four yards, Scott registered a total of five yards on 10 carries against the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans. Though if you watch those games, he was tackled for significant losses largely due to a failed blocking assignment, categorically putting Scott into the "he had no shot" argument.

At the same time I had wished and expected more by now. Marvin Lewis and Jay Gruden have followed through on their plan to use him, often on the third series and incrementally throughout the rest of the game, giving him a career-high 89 carries. Yet with only 298 yards rushing, he’s averaging a career-low 3.3 yards rushing per carry and through 42 games played, has scored two touchdowns.

I know the reasons why a running back might not be successful in the game of football; it’s in the first chapter called "things you should know if you’re going to become an obsessive fan that constantly writes about the team for pennies."

At the same time I had expected and hoped for more.

+ THE TAYLOR MAYS EXPERIMENT COMING ALONG NICELY. While Owen Daniels was basking in the glow of charitable coverages during this giving season last week, once Mays integrated himself into the game regularly covering the tight end, Owens was largely "bah, humbugged" and it's hardly surprising. While Mays may struggle against deep passes with speedy receivers (at least that’s the knock on him), the safety is ideal against tight ends because Mays is just as quick as any tight end and as big as a linebacker.

Already a heavy special teams contributor, the presence of Mays on defense offers an eventual caveat for the team’s future. Continuing with his development as the eventual starting strong safety, replacing an aging Chris Crocker, once Mays plays up to his athletic abilities, it would be like Cincinnati receiving another first round draft pick during the season he’s eventually named the full-time starter.

Though when Crocker came to Cincinnati essentially becoming the team’s best overall safety, versatile enough to play any secondary position asked of him -- with a decent pass rush and hard-hitting mentality in the box -- Crocker will turn 32 this March. Additionally against the pass this year, opposing quarterbacks have posted a 101.3 quarterback rating against receivers he’s covered.

But it’ll come down to money and contracts, as most decisions in the NFL do. It’s not hard imaging Mays stealing a significant portion of Crocker’s playing time next season, especially with Crocker playing for a moderate $1.75 million during the final year of his four-year contract in 2012. Along with a higher ceiling, Mays, who turns 24 in February, is only expected to make $490,000 in 2012. Does that mean Crocker will be meaningless? No. He’ll be just as influential on the team’s defense, backing up any position in the secondary and adding comfort to the concern of injury. Backups and depth are keys in the NFL most successful team have plenty of. Crocker offers that at the safety position.

+ THIS TEAM’S IMMEDIATE FUTURE WILL RELY ON THEIR DEFENSE. There is an incredible foundation forming within Cincinnati’s offense, with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green putting together one of the most impressive rookie quarterback and wide receiver combinations since the NFL’s merger in 1970. Both have absolutely assaulted (in Dalton’s case destroyed), most of the franchise’s respective rookie records.

That being said this offense isn’t necessarily tasked with stability beyond this season. The running back position is fluid. A team full of slot receivers in Jordan Shipley, Andrew Hawkins and Ryan Whalen, it’s safe to say that this team’s number two receiver, playing opposite of A.J. Green, isn’t on the team yet and the offensive line needs help. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe that Cincinnati’s starting running back, left guard and second wide receiver (not slot receiver) for next year might not be on this team right now.

That being said this team’s immediate future (and we mean the rest of this season and into next season), will heavily depend on their defense. The defensive line is producing the team’s finest young talent and the linebacker crew is as strong in Cincinnati as it’s ever been during the Marvin Lewis era (save for perhaps that 2005 squad). And the secondary is consistently on the brink of making plays, though somewhat short in the eventual talent department.

And that’s the truth. Like the offense there’s many questions surrounding this defense that counters the talking points above. Will Rey Maualuga improve or are watching his peak? Will he just be an above average linebacker, or a play-maker, like we saw against the Houston Texans? Will Leon Hall return before training camp after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury earlier this year? Will the team find Johnathan Joseph’s replacement during Nate Clement’s second year? Don’t get me wrong. Clements has done a fantastic job stepping into the role, but his NFL career isn’t going to last much longer as we’ve already seen age highlighting depreciation with his overall talent.

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