If you know anything about Mike Zimmer, you know that he’s not about to say “Woe is me” after injuries ravaged his 5th-ranked defense.
Even after losing Geno Atkins, Leon Hall, Robert Geathers, and Taylor Mays with season-ending injuries, the Bengals defensive coordinator exudes confidence.
“Obviously we can’t replace some of the talent we’ve lost, but we can play really good as a team,” said Zimmer. “We can do our job, we can play really hard, and we can make sure that we understand all of the situations and those kinds of things. This is the NFL and this isn’t the first time that this has happened. I take it as a great opportunity and a great challenge to get this group of guys to play really good defense.”
Still, the loss of Atkins will force Zimmer to make changes since the two-time Pro Bowler is the best interior pass rusher in the NFL and helped the Bengals consistently get pressure on the quarterback without constantly having to blitz.
“Obviously we won’t have the same pressure that we had with Geno with just three guys or four guys, so we’re going to have to manufacture it a little bit more. That will be our challenge as coaches – to try to find ways to still create pressure on the quarterback.
“It hurts because there were a lot of times where schematically we were trying to put Geno in one-on-one situations. Now we won’t be doing that quite as much. We’re going to have to turn to our ends and try to find situations where we can get them into one-on-one matchups.”
The bulk of Geno’s playing time figures to go to second-year pro Brandon Thompson who was in for 36 snaps in Thursday’s loss at Miami. Like Atkins, Thompson is freakishly strong as evidenced by this YouTube clip of him bench-pressing 495 pounds.
“I look at it as an opportunity,” Thompson told me. “It’s my chance to showcase my talents and what I bring to the table. It’s hard losing a player like Geno. He’s probably one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL if not the greatest. I’m not going to be able to replace him, but I’m going to come in and do what I do. I’m rough in there and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get to the ball.”
“Whoever is playing in place of Geno is going to step up and make plays – I can tell you that for sure,” said Terence Newman. “That’s how good our depth is on the line.
“It’s a great challenge. Geno is a great player. He’s one of the best in the league at his position. He’s one of the best defensive players in the league period. It’s a great blow, but like I said, it’s an opportunity. Whoever is in that position is going to try to step up and make his presence felt.”
As a rookie with Dallas in 2003, Newman was part of a Zimmer-coached defense that finished number one in the NFL in yards allowed and second in points allowed despite not having a dominant pass rusher (Greg Ellis led the team with eight sacks).
“We had a great group of guys that were unselfish and did what they were supposed to do,” said Zimmer. “They played really hard, and played really smart, and I think this group can be like that. Obviously we still have more talent than we probably did when I was in Dallas. Collectively if we all play good together, we’ll still be a good defensive team.”
Zimmer was named the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year in 2009 when the Bengals finished fourth in the league in total defense despite not having a Pro Bowler on that side of the ball.
“When I first got here, we obviously didn’t have the talent that we have now and we played pretty good,” said Zimmer. “I take a lot of pride in getting 11 guys to do their job, and do it as well as they can, and playing great team defense. I do feel like we have a nucleus of guys and we have some other good players that can go in there and play well.”
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