Take a guess who has been the most efficient pass-rushing secondary player over the past three years? It's the much chastised former Bengals safety Chris Crocker, and he's been the most efficient blitzing defensive back in the league by a mile.
The guys at Pro Football Focus have come up with a Pass-Rushing Productivity formula, which basically tells you how often the player is getting to the quarterback when he is blitzing. Bengals' defensive ends Michael Johnson and Robert Geathers have placed very poorly in this metric over the past three years, as we recently wrote about.
Chris Crocker on the other hand, has been insanely efficient. He received a 21.00 rating. Second place finished at 14.89, and tenth place received a 10.53. Crocker has been head and shoulders (Troy Polamalu, by the way, is no where to be found in the article) above the rest.
In only 75 pass-rushing snaps, Crocker has been able to sack/hit/hurry the quarterback 19 times, which is tied for second in the league. To put that into perspective, legendary Green Bay Packers playmaking cornerback Charles Woodson has had 210 pass-rushing snaps in that same time frame, and only managed only 16 disruptions.
Now, let's look at why Crocker has been able to do this- Mike Zimmer, Mike Zimmer, and Mike Zimmer.
Crocker is agile and smart, but he's not a dominating physical presence that sheds twenty blocks on his way to the quarterback. A large chunk of Crocker's disruptions have come from having a straight, unblocked shot at the quarterback. That is the result of Mike Zimmer's scheming and play-design, with (and give credit to Crocker here) a little deception by the veteran safety along the way.
Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer likes to blitz his strong safeties and other secondary players, but in a smart, controlled manner. Timing and deception over volume of blitzes. For example, another former Bengal safety, Chinedum Ndukwe places 9th on the list, with 92 blitzes and 13 quarterback disruptions (all when he was a Bengal between 2009-2010). Even Reggie Nelson and Nate Clements (who both didn't blitz enough snaps to qualify for the list) created pressure on 10 out of 45 blitzing opportunities and 7 out of 23 blitzing opportunities respectively last year.
What all that means to me is that we may get to see the hard-hitting Taylor Mays crunch a lot of opposing quarterbacks this year, probably unblocked and from the quarterback's blindside. Mays, of course, is the current favorite to take over Crocker's vacant strong safety spot. 2012 5th rounder George Iloka garnered a bit of praise during this team's OTAs, while 2011 5th rounder Robert Sands and special teams playmaker Jeromy Miles round out the position battle.
There's still a lot of time for a winner to emerge, however. The Bengals may choose to move one of the team's cornerbacks to safety. They may even bring Crocker back at a cheaper price [cringe]. But, for now, we like to imagine the 230-pound Mays crushing whichever unfortunate soul that doesn't see him coming.