The Cincinnati Bengals have made it to 9-2 this season thanks in large part to an explosive offense and a stout defense.
However, another area in which the Bengals are excelling, as they've done many times in recent years, is on special teams. Once again, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has constructed a unit that's excelling in just about every facet of the most overlooked side of the ball.
The man who's been as instrumental to this success as any one player has during Simmons' tenure is a fourth-string running back with just 64 career carries in eight NFL seasons. That would be Cedric Peerman, who is once again the Bengals' top tackler on both punt and kickoff coverage.
As of now, Peerman's 12 special-teams tackles are the second-most of any NFL player behind only Browns safety Johnson Bademosi and he finished third in the league last season. Peerman has actually taken a lot of traits a running back needs and used them to make an impact on special teams.
Making a man miss in space and finding a hole and hitting it are two of the ways Peerman excels on special teams. He's also running a lot, having to get down the field to cover kicks. All of these abilities help play a part in getting by special teams blockers and making it to the ball-carrier.
One key trait Peerman has displayed that helps him make so many tackles is his ability to split double teams, as Simmons told Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson.
"Any time they use two guys to try and stop one of yours and you win that battle, that’s an enormous play for us," Simmons said.
A good example of this came in Week 6 in a win over the Bills during a kickoff in which Peerman tackled track star Marquise Goodwin down at the Buffalo 17-yard line. He gets in between two Bills blockers, plows over one of them and gets the stop on Goodwin.
Peerman is often one of the first men on the Bengals that hits the wall of blockers, and but he's also one of the best at making blockers miss and getting to the returner.
Another example of this came at a critical moment during the Week 11 loss at Arizona. With the game tied at 31-all and in the final minute, the Bengals' special teams could ill-afford to allow a big return by Arizona to help them get into field goal range. Peerman made sure the Cardinals would have to earn it on offense as he tackled David Johnson at the Cardinals' 16-yard line.
But Peerman's highlight of the year came in Week 9 against the very Browns he'll face again this week. On a second-quarter kickoff, Peerman made two different Browns blockers miss before lighting up Justin Gilbert at the Cleveland 8-yard line and nearly caused a fumble (Gilbert was ruled down).
All of this is a big reason why the Bengals lead the NFL in opponents' average starting field position (19.6-yard line), according to Hobson. Peerman is often the one making the tackle that pins teams within their own 20-yard line.
"That’s unique with the kind of production we get out of him," Simmons says. "His biggest attribute is his speed. What has happened to him this year is his experience has kicked in. He’s seen a lot of looks down through the years."
Vinny Rey, who serves as the special teams co-captain with Peerman, knows how important Peerman is to why the Bengals are so good on special teams.
"Everyone knows he’s the guy you have to block," Rey told Bengals.com. "He’s got two guys on him and he’s still making all these tackles inside the 20. He gets it. He’s 29 years old and he’s playing as fast as he’s ever played. Maybe faster. He’s the leader of our special teams."
Even Peerman admits the impact he's making this season is greater than he's ever had in the past.
"I felt like last year I took a big step from previous years," Peerman says. "This year I’ve made some plays that people notice inside the 10 and 15. From that standpoint I’m getting better. It’s experience. Watching tape. Having a good feel. And confidence. I’m playing with confidence. It’s a combination of things."
While guys like Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins, Tyler Eifert, and Carlos Dunlap get much of the praise for this year's success, Peerman is also making a big impact that deserves recognition.