The Bengals' defense was solid for three quarters in Sunday's win over the Ravens. The secondary had a minor meltdown in the late third and fourth quarter that almost cost them the win, but Cincinnati was able to secure their third consecutive win of the season.
On a day where Baltimore could only muster 36 yards on the ground, Joe Flacco threw for 362 yards and two scores, almost all of which came in the final 22 minutes of the game. Over that span, Baltimore scored 24 points and nearly came back from a 14-0 deficit to steal a win from Cincinnati. While many players have to shoulder the blame for this, not having starting safety George Iloka on the field certainly didn't help.
Iloka's lingering ankle injury led to him playing in just 44 snaps Sunday, which was only 59 percent of the possible snaps in the game for the Bengals' defense. Comparatively, Iloka played in nearly 100 percent of the team's snaps last season. But, his ankle issue has been plaguing him now since he suffered the injury in Week 1 at Oakland.
As it turns out, Iloka revealed Monday to Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson that he made a tough decision to pull himself from the game as the injury began causing him to have a negative impact on the game in his eyes. "I felt like I was hurting the team more than I was helping them at the time, so I took myself out," Iloka told Hobson. "That’s all I can say about that."
Iloka finished Sunday with a -0.8 Pro Football Focus grade, whereas Shawn Williams, his replacement, finished with a -0.6 grade. While that's a small sample size of how both played, it does show that Iloka wasn't having a good game when he was in, and Williams managed to play at about the same level.
In fact, Williams didn't even give up a big play while he was in. Per PFF, Williams was targeted four times, but gave up just one catch for four yards. Iloka's confidence in Williams is what led to his decision to pull himself in favor of the third-year safety.
"We’re all confident in Shawn," Iloka said via Bengals.com. "We have depth, so you can’t be selfish in that situation. So I pulled myself out and told Paul (Guenther) I couldn’t go any more. I don’t want to pull myself out. Like I said, I wasn’t helping the team. I wasn’t playing like myself and I didn’t want to hurt myself any further. I’ve got to get healthy so I can go out there and play like I know I can. With the backups we have and how good they are, it made it a little bit easier. I would have felt bad if I came out and we lost."
Injuries are going to happen, and having quality backups who can step in and not be liabilities is how good teams finish strong by season's end. The Bengals have made four straight postseasons due in part to this very reason, and this was just the latest example of a backup answering the call. Wednesday will be the Bengals' first practice this week and it's likely Iloka will be getting some time to rest before determining whether he'll play on Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs come to Paul Brown Stadium.