Mike Zimmer looking forward to challenge after defense takes a hit

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer recognizes that two of his best players are gone, but believes that his defense is good enough to continue fighting.

Despite losing starting cornerback Leon Hall and defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the year -- as well as starting linebacker Rey Maualuga and backup defensive tackle Devon Still for a spell -- Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer isn't planning on changing much.

"It’s a challenge, it’s an opportunity," Zimmer said via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We've got some other good players in the locker room that we pride ourselves on playing good team defense. I can’t reiterate that enough. That’s what we do, that’s what we've always done and hopefully we’ll continue to do that."

Hall has already missed four games this year (and part of a fifth) -- two games earlier in the season with a hamstring and the two games missed after suffering his Achilles injury. Adam Jones has stepped up in Hall's place, grabbing both of his interceptions during games that Hall sat with opposing quarterbacks posting a quarterback rating of 43.9 when attempting throws to players that Jones is covering.

RATING TAR COMP PCT. YRDS TD INT
Jones' Opp. QB Rating w/ Hall 106.5 30 19 63.3% 292 1 0
Jones' Opp. QB Rating w/o Hall 43.9 29 17 58.6% 251 0 2

"We've got a lot of solid guys. There are all kinds of solid guys in the locker room. We don't have non-solid guys here. That's part of what we stress; you do your job, I do my job," Zimmer said via Bengals.com. "Geno only played half the time. He didn't play every snap, so we had other guys playing. It's not like, well maybe we were (bad) half those other times."

According to the NFL, opposing offenses have taken 595 snaps with Geno Atkins playing 77 percent of them. But it's obviously not a matter of snap count -- rather effectiveness. Atkins ranked in the top-three among all defensive tackles in quarterback sacks and hits on the passer -- top-ten in total pressures. Additionally, Atkins ranks fifth against the run among players at his position in the league.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, the defense is allowing 4.7 yards per rush when Atkins isn't on the field as opposed to 3.7 yards per rush with Atkins on it.

"And Leon hasn't played in (five) games now. Obviously we'd love to have those guys because they're good guys and good players and fit into our system, but it is what it is. ... We've got competitors that like to compete. So they don't want to say, 'We can't win now because we don't have Geno and Leon and this guy.' They don't want to hear that. Imagine if I walked in that room and said that to these guys. 'Oh, no, we can't win. What are we going to do?' "

Yet the question remains: How will Cincinnati respond with Atkins' injury? Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens will be the first and there is speculation on how they'll prepare. Brandon Thompson has already been promoted as the starter at defensive tackle (the three-technique). James Harrison could move to defensive end during passing situations, sliding Carlos Dunlap or Michael Johnson inside. Or they could give Margus Hunt opportunities, who is already taking snaps at defensive tackle during passing situations.

"It's a lot more compact, a lot less freedom to work with," Hunt said before practice Wednesday via Bengals.com. "It's harder for me because usually the guards are a lot shorter than the tackles, so I have to really focus on keeping my pads down."

In the end, Zimmer is going to depend on a defense that he integrated all of those years ago, relying on the players to do their jobs.

"We do what we do," Zimmer said.

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