Ed Reed, Troy Palamalu, Eric Weddle, Eric Berry, Earl Thomas, Jairus Byrd … maybe even T.J. Ward, Antoine Bethea, Ryan Clark, John Cyprien, James Ihedigbo, Dawan Landry, Major Wright, Kam Chancellor, Tashaun Gipson, Darius Butler, or Antrel Rolle…they all contributed with a higher number of tackles and/or interceptions than the average Safety. They were a presence in the backfield that you had to account for.
I don’t get that feeling with Reggie Nelson and George Iloka. I don’t get that feeling with any combination of Reggie Nelson and Crocker, Mays, Williams, etc. In fact, I only think Reggie Nelson is a good Safety because that’s what I keep hearing, and the other guys I always hear are some sort of liability, a weakness that offenses can take advantage of. I see Nelson in on some plays, but I don’t see him making plays all over the field. Iloka did a fine job this year of filling in, Crocker came off the street again and filled some holes, but these are not big time safeties that you must account for in your game plan. I’m making the assumption that Nelson is good and would be even better paired with another better Safety.
Eric Weddle was all over the field, coming up to stop the run, blitzing, double covering Green, covering the slot, the TEs, the RB. He was the reason the Bengals didn’t break any big plays. Palamalu and Reed when younger were always a pain in the Bengals side. They also were paired with other Safeties that were very good, just not as well known. Having good Safeties allow you to blitz and not get burned. They make the QB hesitate even if for just a second when throwing the ball down field. They help your defense get off the field on 3rd and long. This is what the Bengals Defense has been lacking for years. Finally, they have a great DL, good starting LBs, and depth at CB if everyone comes back healthy. Having a #3 Defense with all the injuries they had was pretty amazing, but imagine what it would have been like with Earl Thomas and his 105 tackles and 5 interceptions. I would argue that the Bengals sack count would have been up, the interceptions would have been up, and the Defense would have been ranked #1 even better than the Seahawks.
Would this have helped the Bengals beat the Chargers? Well, first off, they would have had a first round bye. But in the playoff game, I think it would have given the Bengals a chance to take a bigger lead early, better field position, more time for the offense by the D getting off the field on 3 and outs, and less pressure on Dalton to throw those picks. So yes, it would have helped a lot. Which makes me wonder, what if they had signed Kerry Rhodes? Why didn’t anyone sign Kerry Rhodes, I don’t understand, but with the Bengals taking those guys that no one wants and building a solid D, I think maybe he would have been worth a look.
Year after year the Bengals miss out on the good safeties in the Draft. Sometimes they pick another good player at a different position, things either just don’t fall their way or they just don’t value that position as much as others taking TE, DE, and LB in a few of these spots. Williams didn't play much, if at all, which is surprising considering how smart he was supposed to be. A 3rd round pick at a position of need that doesn't get on the field sure sounds like a bust to me. Who knows if he will step up in the offseason, but I don't count on him to improve this unit much. They seem to have decent luck bringing in Free Agents like Nelson, Crocker, but have recently just stuck with bringing back Crocker. This year there may be a very large group of Safeties in Free Agency. The Bengals aren’t expected to be big players, trying to resign their own, however, I think we can make a case for a Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner, or any number of other guys who might be available.