COMMENTARY| The Cincinnati Bengals managed to grind out a Week 7 win against the Detroit Lions on a game-winning field goal as time expired to boost their record to an AFC North leading 5-2. As big as the win was for the Bengals, the celebration was somewhat muted by the loss of cornerback Leon Hall to an Achilles' injury during the game -- an injury that is likely to cost him the rest of the season.
The Value of Leon Hall
Hall injured his Achilles defending Lions' wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the end zone in the first quarter. It was the kind of play that personified Hall in coverage -- often in isolation against the other team's best, biggest or fastest receiver whether wide or in the slot.
As the Bengals' most versatile corner, his absence ultimately led to the first time in 21 games that the Bengals allowed a quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards against them. Without Hall and his versatility in the lineup, it likely won't be the last game this season that a QB throws for more than 300 yards against the Bengals.
Hall tore his left Achilles tendon in 2011 and missed the final seven games of the season. This time, he suffered the injury to his right Achilles. While the pronouncement has yet to come that his Achilles is torn and Hall's season finished, the Bengals will start to prepare immediately for the remainder of the 2013 without Hall.
Hall was part of a trio of veteran CBs that includes 35-year-old Terence Newman and the legally-challenged Adam Jones. Of the three, Hall may have seemed the least likely to have a season-ending event on or off the field, but now that he has, the roles of Newman and Jones just intensified.
For Newman, health and continued effectiveness over the course of a long season are now magnified. If the aged Newman loses his ability for man coverage or suffers a season-ending injury, the Bengals are in trouble. As for Jones, he'll inherit Hall's role split between the slot and the edge, where he is not quite as effective in space as either Hall or Newman.
When both Newman and Jones are wide, the Bengals will rely on 33-year-old strong safety Chris Crocker to play slot corner, where only his experience and and instincts can offset a significant drop off in foot speed.
The Bengals will use 2012 first-round draft pick Dre Kirkpatrick more if he can stay healthy and also show he can be an effective NFL corner. Like Kirkpatrick, backup CB Brandon Ghee has struggled to remain both healthy and effective, but he'll be active and receive his share of snaps on defense if he's healthy.
Fortunately for the Bengals secondary, the team is solid at the safety positions with Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Crocker and Taylor Mays, who is developing into an excellent nickel safety/linebacker hybrid.
Preview Against the New York Jets
The Bengals won't face another gunslinger in Week 8 like they did in Lions QB Matthew Stafford in Week 7, but Jets' rookie QB Geno Smith is still a threat to throw. The Bengals' secondary will benefit from having a less experienced passer in this game to help transition to the rest of the season without Hall.
The Bengals also face the possibility that middle linebacker Rey Maualuga might be questionable against the Jets. Maualuga was helped off the field against the Lions midway through the fourth quarter. He was tugging at his hamstring just above the knee and did not return to action. The Bengals used two linebackers for the rest of the game: Vontaze Burfict and Taylor Mays.
Without Maualuga against a power running team like the Jets. James Harrison may see more action than he has all year on the strong side, and the Bengals would have to either plug Burfict into the middle or give special teamer Vincent Rey a crash course in the middle to prepare for the Jets.
The Bengals also lost backup defensive tackle Devon Still to an elbow injury in the first half. Still did not return. As part pf the DT rotation, Still will be primarily replaced by Brandon Thompson, but without Still on the Week 8 active roster, rookie DE Margus Hunt will likely be active.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for more than five years. He posts his NFL draft predictions each year at footballnostradamus.com.
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- Leon Hall
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Terence Newman
- Detroit Lions