It might seem strange to spotlight a rotational linebacker after a game in which the Bengals defense only saw the field for 45 snaps, but Vincent Rey, the longtime special team stud, was great on Thursday despite only playing sparsely on defense.
With the talented Vontaze Burfict back after his three-game suspension, Cincinnati's defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, now has plentiful options at linebacker. In addition, their base defense is not the classic 4-3 anymore, with the nickel formation taking over in the last few years. Thus, Rey can go back to his job as the fourth linebacker and excel as he did against Miami.
The 6-foot outside linebacker only played 33% of the snaps, but his first time on the field he broke up a pass to get a third down stop with the Bengals down 7-3. It was the Dolphins second drive of the night, and the intended receiver was speedy Kenny Stills, who had taken advantage of a blown coverage earlier on to torch Cincinnati's secondary and score the first touchdown of the game.
On third-and-eight the Bengals were showing double A gap blitz with safety George Iloka as their center fielder, but quickly backtracked to cover 2. Rey got matched with Stills and stayed on top of his route. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill went for him anyway. Despite Stills' quickness, Rey blanketed him and gave the Bengals momentum on defense after what had happened in the Dolphins’ first drive.
Just watch how he mirrored the receiver's hook route and how he used his hands to make the play.
He had another good coverage on tight end Dion Sims on a play that almost ended up with a Geno Atkins sack or an interception in the Dolphins' last drive of the first half. Rey stayed with him like a Tampa 2 middle linebacker.
The New York native was often on the field on third down, and had a sure tackle of wide receiver DeVante Parker with Miami trying to come back from a 19-7 deficit. Not that the pass was going anywhere, but Rey made the play. And, you could tell he dissected the play call perfectly.
Rey was also in coverage on a pass intended for Stills on third-and-five early in the fourth quarter that was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Carlos Dunlap. Even if Tannehill had made the completion, Rey was all over the receiver, and in very good position to make the stop.
The Bengals were again showing a double A gap blitz and had Chris Lewis-Harris manning the slot. And, again, retreated to a cover 2 before the snap.
Credit to Dunlap, who destroyed Miami’s right tackle, but Rey again was good in coverage in spite of an unfavorable matchup with a fast wide receiver running a quick out route.
The Bengals did not win (only) because of Rey, of course, and there were many other players who had a huge impact on the game, but on the same scenario of his first career start, the seven-year veteran showed why he’s still a valuable member of a contending team.
Not only has Rey shined against Miami, he’s been great in each of the first four weeks of the season, and he’s getting love not only from Pro Football Focus, but also from Bleacher Report in their weekly top 1000 report. Rey has ranked in the top 10 of his position for two weeks in a row, and he’ll probably be even higher when the list for Week 4 is released next Thursday.
With the Bengals linebackers healthy, Rey will probably not be a starter for this defense, considering the return of Burfict and the addition of Karlos Dansby this offseason. But, the Duke product has delivered time and time again, and his efforts against the Dolphins were just the latest proof.