Do the Cincinnati Bengals have the NFL’s best safety tandem?
Zac Taylor thinks so.
During his Monday press conference, Taylor called the Bengals’ duo of Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell the best safety tandem of all 32 NFL teams.
Zac Taylor on Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates: "They're the best safety tandem in the league."— Marisa Contipelli (@BengalsMarisa) October 18, 2021
Bell has quietly been having one of his better seasons as a pro, as he currently has a 72.5 Pro Football Focus grade. That would be the second-highest of his career, trailing only his 75.3 mark in 2018.
In fact, Bell has never had back-to-back 70+ graded seasons at PFF since entering the league as a second-round pick out of Ohio State in 2016. But after finishing 2020 — his first year in Cincinnati — with a 71.5 grade, he’s on the verge of accomplishing that feat if he continues to play well over the final 11 regular-season games.
As for Bates, he established himself as one of the NFL’s best safeties during his breakout 2020 season that saw him finish with a 90.1 PFF grade, one of the highest of any NFL defender that year.
This year, Bates has a 71.2 mark and also missed the first game of his career in Week 4 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars with a neck issue. Part of that lower grade is this defense has taken a major step forward from last year, which has led to Bates not having to do nearly as much. He’s currently averaging what would be a career-low six tackles per game and doesn’t have a single pass deflection (had 15 in 2020) or interception (three in 2020).
The so-called best safety tandem will have a major challenge this coming week as they take on Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson remains the NFL’s best dual-threat QB who can stretch the field with his big arm or break off a big run into the secondary.
Bell and Bates should get plenty of opportunities to stifle the former NFL MVP this Sunday and give the Bengal a chance to pull off what would arguably be the biggest win of the Zac Taylor era.
While Taylor’s claim is certainly bold, John Harbaugh took it a step further during his own Monday presser, calling the Bengals one of the NFL’s best teams right now.
Harbaugh said the Bengals are one of best teams in the NFL right now. “Just watch them play. … We have our hands full.”— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) October 18, 2021
Is this merely Harbaugh hyping up his team’s next opponent, or is the long-time nemesis of the Bengals onto something?
Well, Football Outsiders’ DVOA actually has the Bengals ranked 12th overall in the NFL on the strength of a top-10 defense (seventh) and special teams unit (ninth). Baltimore isn’t far ahead at eighth overall thanks to their ninth-ranked offense and second-ranked special teams.
The Bengals also have just two losses by a combined six points and are coming off a 34-11 win over a Detroit Lions team that nearly took down Baltimore if not for a historic field goal made by Justin Tucker.
We’ll get a better idea of how good Cincinnati is compared to the NFL’s best when they face a Ravens squad that’s 10-1 over their last 11 regular-season games and haven’t lost at home this season.
It’s safe to say Baltimore is definitely playing like one of the best teams in the NFL right now, so a win this week by the Bengals would show everyone they’re for real and ready to contend for a playoff spot.