The little guy with the big voice. The fiery leader of the heart of this team's success over the past six seasons. He's also known as Bengals defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer.
When one looks at the 2013 season, the one constant that a fan can rely on with this 8-4, AFC North-leading Bengals team is that the defense is going to bring it every week. Currently sitting at No.5 in points allowed, No.6 in yards allowed, No.8 against the pass and No.8 against the run, this unit does everything well. They can also take the ball away with 23 total on the year--13 interceptions and ten fumble recoveries.
In short, they are the biggest reason why this team sits where they do with the No.3 seed in their grasp. One might be inclined to say yes, based on the above-mentioned stats, but that's not where the greatness of Zimmer's job with the unit stops this season.
Who They've Dominated:
If you take a look at the Bengals' schedule, you'll see some of the best names in the league that have become notches in this unit's belt. Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers have all succumbed to Zimmer's will. In those five wins against current and former All-Pros, those teams averaged just 16 points per game, and you have to include some defensive touchdowns by the opposition in those contests, making the amount of points that Zimmer's boys have allowed even less. The crown jewel of those performances has to be holding the Brady-led Patriots to just six points.
What They've Overcome:
Most Bengals fans would have and likely did concede the season once Geno Atkins went down for the year. Some may have even done so when their top cornerback, Leon Hall went down for the year himself. Taylor Mays, who was enjoying a career renaissance went down with a shoulder injury after the unit already lost Emmanuel Lamur for the season. Throw in a month without Rey Maualuga and even more time without Devon Still and this unit was stretched to the max.
Still, Zimmer and Co. overcame it all and still have a top-five-ish defense. How? Brandon Thompson, Vincent Rey and Adam Jones. Rey was one of the defense's best players for a couple of weeks and even second-year safety George Iloka got himself a nomination for AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts against San Diego. And then there is the Godsend, Vontaze Burfict. He has taken the reigns of this unit, lines people up correctly and tackles everything in sight.
Though this unit has its stars, it's a plug-and-play system and both Marvin Lewis and Zimmer have done an excellent job shoring up the depth. It has been needed in the wake of so many drastic injuries that they've accumulated this season.
Other Big Statistics:
Outside of the rankings listed earlier, this defensive unit has done a great job of keeping long streaks intact. For instance, the fact that the Bengals defense has yet to allow a quarterback to throw more than one touchdown per game in contests at home. That one dates back to November of 2012 and was last broken by none other than Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. There was also the breaking of a Tom Brady steak with 52 straight games with a touchdown--the Cincinnati D nixed that one.
They also had a long dry spell of 300-yard passing days against them until Stafford broke that one in the middle of this season. Really, that game was the only one where the defensive unit has struggled this season. There is also the great consistency that Zimmer's units have shown with three-and-outs of opposing offenses. Their four defensive touchdowns ranks them in the upper-middle of the league as well.
The Defensive Unit Helps Out The Offense:
With the 23 takeaways in 12 games played (almost two per game for those of us who suck at math), Zimmer's group has helped out an inconsistent offensive group this year. Giving a short field to the offense, be it by a turnover or one of the many three-and-outs that they provide, this 2013 group has been a major crutch for Andy Dalton and Co. in that regard.
Those four defensive touchdowns also greatly helped seal wins against the Packers and Browns when things were looking bleak. It's those kind of clutch plays that Zimmer's unit has a knack of making to help out the offense when they aren't at their best.
Zimmer has been passed over for head coaching jobs in the NFL, and with the league's trend of teams wanting the next hot offensive coordinator or successful college coach, he may get passed over again to the Bengals' huge benefit. Still, with these stats and the record of consistency in his six years in Cincinnati, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better defensive coordinator in the business outside of Zimmer.
Do the above-mentioned stats, streaks and marks of consistency point to this season as the best job he has done since arriving in the Queen City back in 2008? It would be difficult to dispute that notion, wouldn't it?