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Bengals to Zimmer: Pimp our Defense


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The Bengals' defense is kind of like your first

car. It's not pretty, it constantly needs new

parts, and it isn't reliable enough to get you

where you want to go. In other words, it

needs professional attention. .

Which brings us to Mike Zimmer, who will play

the role of Mr. Goodwrench.

The third defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis

has hired since becoming Cincinnati's head coach

in 2003, Zimmer inherits a unit that has been in the

league's bottom half each of the past five seasons,

and only once in that span has it been above 27th,

its NFL rank last season. In 2007, it registered a

league-low 22 sacks, gave up 40 touchdowns and

allowed 52 explosive plays (gains of 20 yards or

more), including 14 that were scoring plays.

Injuries contributed to Cincinnati's problems,

72 . SEE A DIFFERENT GAME. 2/25/08

especially at linebacker, where Eric Henderson

went on injured reserve in the preseason and

Ahmad Brooks, Lemar Marshall, Rashad Jeanty

and Caleb Miller missed significant time. But other

problems reared their heads. Such as an anemic

pass rush. Such as poor tackling in the open field.

Such as loose coverage in the secondary.

Since joining the Bengals in mid-January, Zimmer

has been studying the players and trying to

figure out what to do with them. He's not ready to

publish his playbook, but he has conceptualized

various personnel groupings and schemes.

"It's not set in stone what we're going to do;' says .

Zimmer, 51, who was the defensive coordinator of

the Cowboys (2000-06) and the Falcons (2007)

before coming to Cincinnati. "But they haven't

been real good on defense here for a number of

years, so nothing is out of the question:'

Even switching to a 3-4.

AFC North rivals Pittsburgh, Baltimore .and

Cleveland already playa 3-4. Zimmer is considering

making it a foursome. Even ifhe decides to stay with

the 4-3 as the Bengals' base defense, look for him to

sprinkle in a lot of3-4100ks and alignments.

Zimmer likes the 3-4 because of the variations it

offers for pressuring the quarterback. You can line

up both outside linebackers on the same side, you

don't always have to bring in new pass rushers in

nickel situations, and you can confuse offenses

with different zone blitzes.

This wouldn't be the first time Zimmer has

delved into the 3-4. In Dallas, he helped orchestrate

a successful transition from the 4-3 to a 3-4

in 2005 and 2006 under coach Bill Parcells.

The Cowboys drafted pass-rushing linebacker

DeMarcus Ware, added veteran nose tackle Jason

Ferguson and moved Greg Ellis from end to outside


Zimmer thinks the Bengals have three playersend

Robert Geathers, Brooks and tackle Domata

Peko-around whom a 3-4 defense could be

built. Altllough Geatllers had only 3'12sacks

last season, he played strongside linebacker in

four games because of injuries to teammates

and has the makeup to play outside linebacker.

Zimmer says Geathers is "probably the best guy

I've seen" on the Bengals' defense.

Brooks, who missed 14 games and most of

another last season, has the size (6-3,259) and athleticism

to fit as an inside linebacker in a 3-4. Peko,

who's easily identified by his flowing red locks,

looks like he's big enough (6-3, 319) and strong

enough to play nose tackle, though he must prove

he can play there.

When everyone is healthy; the Bengals have a lot

of depth at linebacker, and the secondary features

two potential young stars in cornerbacks Johnathan

Joseph and Leon Hall. The main area of concern

is the line, which not only lacked a strong pass

rush last season but also struggled to stop the run.

End Justin Smith is an unrestricted free agent who

is not expected to return, and tackle John Thornton,

who probably would move to end in a 3-4, is

31. Thus, the team's top priorities in the offseason

are finding an end and a tackle.

"No matter what we do, we'vegot to get better up

front;' Zimmer says. "We've got to get more players

in and be a little bit more reckless. Everything really

starts up front, and I think that will be a big push

for us:'

Whether the Bengals stick with their 4-3, switch

to a 3-4 or toggle between the two, there's a lot of

work to be done in the next six months. Roll up

your sleeves, Mr. Goodwrench. SN

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