In a strange reversal in a world filled with opposites, the tea leaves seem to suggest that the Cincinnati Bengals offense will need pick up the defense. What, says the traveling entrepreneur who passively checks scores on Monday. Andy Dalton is currently enjoying a historic run, Marvin Jones' beautiful voice has transferred onto the field and A.J. Green has been playing role of cookie monster, if yards equaled COOKIES!
All the while threats like Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard linger for their headline moments -- well, more than they've already had. Oh, and Cincinnati's second-leading receiver in 2012 Andrew Hawkins? He hasn't even played yet.
Getting warm? Need to cool down? Grab some ice, throw it in your McDonald's plastic mug and re-hydrate. As my younger brother would say, who is far more hip than I've ever been, would say, "it's about to get real."
Could the offense step up for the defense if the need arose? Cris Collinsworth called into Lance McAlister's show this week and said that the one thing that stands Cincinnati above the other teams in the AFC is that the Bengals can beat you on offense and they can beat you on defense. No one else can say that. Not the average offense of the Chiefs or the struggling Broncos defense.
It's not a matter of questionable production if Cincinnati's defense falters on Thursday; rather a unit that's limping on crutches with hardened casts and torn body parts. In the span of three weeks, Cincinnati lost their best cornerback in Leon Hall, their starting linebacker in Rey Maualuga, their effective hybrid defensive back in Taylor Mays, and may not have defensive end Wallace Gilberry, who ranks third on the team with three quarterback sacks.
Those of us with blind faith, praising the football gods while signing songs of glory, will point out that Cincinnati's defense is showered with talent. Enough talent that we'll withstand the vengeance of football gods trying to balance Cincinnati's recent domination on the NFL landscape.
You want to take away Hall? Fine. The Bengals will just respond by returning two interceptions for touchdowns; the first time they've done that in the same game since the year that Hall was born (1984). You want to take away Gilberry? We'll respond with Margus Hunt and maybe some old school James Harrison. Think temporarily losing Maualuga is a big deal? We have Vontaze Burfict, who can play all three linebacker positions... at the same time.
We worried about losing Emmanuel Lamur earlier this year. Taylor Mays, the defensive back that cause most fans to shrug their shoulders, stepped in and terminated those concerns. Someone will simmer existing concerns like Mays did two months ago. And why not? One could figure that the window for Zimmer's tenure is closing in Cincinnati, once he's finally promoted as a head coach somewhere -- then again, if it hasn't happen by now, maybe we're looking at the early stages of having our own version of Dick LeBeau (ironic use of words, huh?). For younger players to make their marks in the NFL, the time is now. We're looking at you Dre Kirkpatrick, Brandon Ghee, Vincent Rey (who has been solid but could use the opportunity to prove himself on defense) and Jayson DiManche. Brandon Thompson, you've been rock solid, but you're greatest is yet to come.
Blind faith appeals and cures all.
The truth is, Cincinnati's defense, while one of the best in the NFL is fragile. No, no. We're not talking about their toughness. Geno Atkins is the most humble of monsters, and Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are humanity's best hope to destroy an onslaught of Kaiju. Adam Jones, who is strangely mediocre when Leon Hall plays, becomes a play-maker and the veterans Chris Crocker and Terence Newman are steady leaders amongst a defense filled with giants. Vontaze Burfict is currently tackling something at this moment; it might be you. Have you checked behind the curtain in the past 15 minutes? If you have family in Miami, you might want to check on them.
On the other hand, the role players have disappeared. Mays, being the coverage linebacker that's shutting down receivers, tight ends and running backs crossing his zone, is done for the year. Rey Maualuga, the impressively steady two-down linebacker, has quieted concerns as a role player. Gilberry, the third-string defensive end behind Dunlap and Johnson, thrives in his comfort zone as a persistent inside rusher. Perhaps Gilberry plays, being questionable after sitting on Tuesday and limited the other two days. Maybe not.
That's been the hammer that's trying to cripple Cincinnati's defense right now. At least that's the story on the surface.
Blind faith dictates that Cincinnati's defense is more than just backup players playing key role positions. It dictates more than the team's actual production; the sacks, beautiful coverages, stuffing tackles around the line of scrimmage. Blind faith commands that believers should listen and watch a team that's faced adversity all year and slammed shut the coffin that fate has continually tried to bury them in.
Good luck with that.