The Cincinnati Bengals finally placed cornerback Leon Hall on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday after tearing his Achilles tendon against the Detroit Lions, according to Coley Harvey of ESPN.com. This decision was not a surprise move by the team. However, what may come as a surprise to many is the way that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will be using members of the secondary going forward.
The vacant spot left by Hall is not as enormous as it seems—Cincinnati is fortunate enough to be very deep in the defensive secondary. Veteran corner Terence Newman will continue his responsibilities on the outside, Adam Jones will slide to the outside to complement Newman and a mix of Chris Crocker and Dre Kirkpatrick will fill the slot position.
To put it simply, there is not a single player that will take over for Hall—this will be a team effort.
Zimmer's unorthodox—yet effective—schemes were well on display during the Bengals 49-9 drubbing of the New York Jets this past Sunday. Different packages of cornerbacks and safeties were used to create the best matchups possible against the Jets offense.
One package that was used on several different occasions utilized three safeties on the field at the same time. Crocker, George Iloka and Reggie Nelson were a very effective unit against Geno Smith and the Jets offense.
This package became very successful due to the versatility on the field. All three safeties have been solid in tackling and coverage so far in 2013. In fact, there is not a single Bengals safety that has a negative grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) this season. Iloka, Nelson, rookie Shawn Williams and Crocker have 2.7, 0.7, 0.1 and 0.0 grades, respectively. All four players are ranked in the top 65 of 151 eligible safeties.
Zimmer seemed to have noticed the stellar play of these contributors and decided to use them accordingly.
One play in particular against the Jets summed up just how dangerous these safeties can be when they find themselves on the field at the same time.
Crocker lines up here against Jeremy Kerley in the slot. Iloka is the single-deep safety while Nelson lines up along the line of scrimmage to blitz.
Once Kerley goes in motion, Crocker drops back in deep coverage and allows Iloka to man up on the receiver.
The ball in snapped and the defensive line does a great job crashing the middle to open up a free lane for Nelson on the outside. The corners remain in tight coverage as Iloka takes on Kerley in the slot and Crocker stays deep.
Nelson gets to Smith for the sack. The coverage is flawless downfield. Every receiving threat is well-covered by the high amount of athleticism that Cincinnati had on the field.
Now, watch the play in its entirety.
It may be surprising that the absence of Hall has led to this type of formation. However, with Crocker's experience in the slot—a position in which Hall played regularly—this lineup gives the Bengals defense the best chance of success.
Keep in mind that Kirkpatrick is still basically a rookie. He missed the bulk of his actual rookie season due to injury and is still playing catch up. The 11 years of experience that Crocker brings to the table are simply priceless for a Bengals team that looks poised to gain their third-consecutive postseason appearance for the first time in franchise history.
Look for this three-safety formation to continue to show up this Thursday when the Bengals take on the Miami Dolphins.
The absence of Hall has begun to show the depth and dynamics of a very talented Bengals secondary.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.
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