Last season, the Bengals were unexpectedly cruising through the middle part of their schedule, thanks to two mature rookies in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. But, while the two youngsters received the majority of the credit by the media and fans, the overlooked defensive unit constantly kept the team in games and stifled some of the poorer teams that they faced. They key to that defensive unit? A solid line rotation with a group of guys that brought their own unique ingredients to the group.
Guys like Jonathan Fanene, Domata Peko and Robert Geathers were solid technicians with non-stop motors. Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson were athletic freaks on the ends and Frostee Rucker was their joker, used at the end and tackle spots. You had Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins doing it all and then there was big Pat Sims. At 6'2" and 335 pounds, there wasn't anyone built like him on the roster and there wasn't anyone who provided the team with what the former Auburn Tiger did and currently does.
Make no mistake: Sims doesn't show up much on the stat sheet all that often. Aside from the diving interception that no 335-pound man should make, he just usually makes a small handful of tackles--some for loss. Even in their dominating win against the Chiefs on Sunday, Sims only played in 20% of the defensive snaps and didn't rack up anything in the stat column. It's more about the presence he brings up front. Sims demands a double team from offensive lines and is a true lane-clogger. Had he not been hurt late last year, I believe that Sims would have been a hot free agent commodity.
There are a few statistics that you can point towards regarding big No.90. Last year was a big indicator of how much Sims means to this team's defense. In games that he played in, the team was 7-4--including the Week 11 Browns game that he injured his ankle. After he went down, the team stumbled to a 2-4 finish and were shown an early exit from the playoffs by the Houston Texans. The Bengals defense allowed more than 100 yards rushing in four of their final six games--something that they had only allowed four times in the 11 previous games that Sims played in.
Then you look at the 2012 season. The Bengals defense under Mike Zimmer has not been the same unit over the course of the season, allowing a staggering amount of points to teams like the Cleveland Browns. Is it a coincidence that the team's two best defensive performances of this year have come when Sims returned to the roster? Maybe. Maybe not.
Look, Sims isn't a three-down player and you can even call him a bit one-dimensional. But he is a major asset to the team's defensive philosophy. One of the things that Zimmer likes to do with his defensive front is rotate guys in to make sure they are fresh and provide different looks to an opposing offense. Sims affords Zimmer this luxury and brings and element that this defense needs, even if his individual stats are paltry.
Last season, the team had the misfortune of losing Sims at the end of the year as they stumbled into the playoffs and, subsequently, right out of them. This year the team seems to be hitting a collective late-season stride and will be with the services of the big guy. With the schedule providing some daunting running backs down the stretch, Sims should give the defensive unit a nice boost.