Cincinnati Bengals defense: Logan Wilson leads underrated squad

Logan Wilson (Justin K Aller/Getty Images)

Late in the first quarter of their week two match-up with the Dallas Cowboys, the Cincinnati Bengals defense surrendered a rushing touchdown to Tony Pollard. The one yard score gave Dallas a 14 – 3 lead. The Cowboys would win the game 20 – 17, but linebacker Logan Wilson and crew wouldn’t allow another touchdown in the game.

The New York Jets wouldn’t score a touchdown in week three either. Week four brought the undefeated Miami Dolphins to town. They also would fail to find the end zone.

The 2022 season has not started how Bengals fans envisioned it, coming off a Super Bowl run last season. The offense sputtered and the team started with consecutive losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and a Cowboys team led by their backup quarterback.

Joe Burrow struggled throwing the football and took a number of sacks. Meanwhile, running back Joe Mixon couldn’t find any room to maneuver. The passing game, which thrived on big plays last year, was bottled and the offense suffered.

On the other side of the ball, though, an identity was being established. Led by Wilson, the Cincinnati Bengals defense was quietly establishing itself as one of the league’s best. Calling them a ragtag group might be pushing it, but the starting lineup is loaded with free agent cast-offs and mid-to-late round draft picks. They’re underrated, but after four weeks, it’s time they start getting the credit they deserve. Here are the names everyone needs to know.

Stars of the Cincinnati Bengals Defense

Logan Wilson

A 2020 third round pick, Logan Wilson has become a force in the middle of the Cincinnati Bengals defense. His instincts in the run game are terrific, and though he’s not as fast as some, he moves down the line and gets downhill in a hurry. He’s a sure tackler, but his versatility really makes him stand out. In his time in the NFL, he already has seven interceptions, which leads all linebackers since 2020. He’s building a Pro Bowl resume thus far in 2022.

DJ Reader

The 2020 off-season saw the Bengals go on a spending spree, with defensive tackle DJ Reader as the centerpiece. The big run stuffer got a big payday — and has been worth every penny. An injury has him sidelined for a few weeks, but so far this season, he’s been dominant.

The power he generates allows him to fend off double-teams and even when he appears to be out of a play, he still manages to make tackles. His ability to shut down running games is a big part of what the team wants to do.

Chidobe Awuzie

A former second round pick of the Cowboys, Chidobe Awuzie joined the Bengals prior to the 2021 season. While he’s neither the biggest, nor the fastest, cornerback in the league, his technique is as good as anybody’s and he rarely finds himself in a bad position. He and the rest of the secondary do a good job of limiting big plays and keeping opposing teams out of the end zone.

Vonn Bell

The 2020 off-season saw safety Vonn Bell as another addition to the Cincinnati Bengals defense. In his two seasons in Cincinnati, he has made some of the defense’s most iconic plays.

His hit on former Steelers receiver Juju Smith-Schuster is still social media fodder. He also sealed a trip to the Super Bowl with an overtime interception of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. This season, he has brought physicality to the secondary and had two interceptions against the Dolphins.

Sam Hubbard

Defensive lineman Sam Hubbard is one of the veteran leaders of the defense. He doesn’t get the recognition that his opposite, Trey Hendrickson, gets, but he is a playmaker nonetheless. He excels as a run defender, but is underappreciated as a pass rusher. He’s not flashy, but he has to be accounted for by opposing offensive lines.

The Bengals are a team loaded on offense. Burrow and his skill players are as talented as any offense in the league, despite the slow start. The defense, on the other hand, doesn’t have multiple top draft picks leading the way. But they’re getting it done anyway.

Logan Wilson and company aren’t grabbing headlines, but through four weeks, they’re putting their team in position to win games. Their names may not be well-known right now, but if they keep it up, it won’t be long until everyone knows who they are.

Have the Atlanta Falcons Found Their Closers? 

Atlanta Falcons closer Grady Jarrett
Photo Credit: Todd Kirkland – Getty Images

The top teams in the NFL all have closers. Yes, like in baseball. When it’s the fourth quarter with the game on the line, a closer is someone you can trust to put the game away for your team. For the teams that are constantly competing, you can find them on both sides of the football: Justin Herbert and Nick Bosa, Aaron Rodgers and Jaire Alexander, Josh Allen and Von Miller, to name a few. When you look at Atlanta Falcons teams in the recent past, there haven’t been any closers to speak of.

That is, maybe, until now. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith may have found themselves two bonafide closers, one that fell in their lap, one that needed a bit more work to find.

(All stats come from Pro Football Reference and rbsdm.com unless otherwise stated)

The Falcons May Have Found Their Closers

Cordarrelle Patterson

Or should we say “Scordarrelle Patterson”?

*crickets* *crickets*

Even if you don’t like the nickname, you can’t say that he hasn’t deserved the recognition. Out of 38 touchdowns scored since he has been on the roster, Patterson has scored 13 of them. That accounts for more than one-third of the end zone trips for the Atlanta Falcons.

That may not make you a closer, but consistent play at the end of games will. On the drive that ended unceremoniously in a Marcus Mariota lost fumble, Patterson showed off his ability to keep the Atlanta Falcons offense on the field. Patterson kept them on schedule with an average of 7.5 yards per carry, including an 18-yard romp off left tackle to get the Falcons toward mid-field. The drive ended up in field goal range before the turnover, and when Richie Grant did get the ball back to the offense, Patterson decided to put them away for good.

Patterson’s two five-yard gains on the final drive eradicated the last few percentage points on the probability scale that offenses in the past had trouble eliminating.

That’s right. The entire stadium knew where the ball was headed, and the closer for this Atlanta Falcons offense decided it didn’t matter.

Every broadcast discusses his kick-return prowess and how it contributes to his one-cut ability as a running back. What is not being discussed is how his 6.2 yards per carry are sixth-most in the league and the most by anyone with over 50 rushing attempts. Or how his 100.7 yards per game is the third-most in the league, and his 17 first downs by rushing, the most in the league.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: The Atlanta Falcons have a running back that they can rely on again.

Grady Jarrett

While the offense thrives, the defense hasn’t necessarily been stout in 2022. There have been flashes and bright spots that can give the Falcons fans hope for improvement, but to push them over the top, they need somebody to make a play at the end of games.

Geno Smith and company got the ball off the Mariota turnover and drove down the field. Then, the Seattle defense showed a hole in their armor. Mykal Walker forced a hold on offensive guard Damien Lewis to force them into a second and long. A slight inconvenience that is followed by a six-yard screen that made a would-be third-and-long, third and eight. Much more manageable.

Defenses of old would find a way to give Geno Smith four or five seconds to find the open receiver and keep the drive alive. But not this one. Not this iteration of the Falcons defense. Grady Jarrett would not allow center Austin Blythe to touch his hands as he chopped his way into the pocket and demolished Geno Smith and any momentum that Seattle had mustered.

And, for Jarrett, that wasn’t enough, early pressure on the 4th down attempt forced Smith out of the pocket and into a bad throw that ultimately ended up in the hands of Grant. The ball game was over.

Atlanta’s defense has been quite underwhelming throughout the season but Jarrett’s ability to help finish off this game gives hope that things may be looking up for the future. His leadership ability will be the saving grace for a particularly young Falcons defense.

Future Atlanta Falcons Closers?

In a rebuild, you would think that the primetime performers at the end of the games may be a bit younger. It makes sense. The entire foundation of a rebuild is built on the long-term productivity of the team’s young talent.

And for the most part, the Falcons are relying on their young talent for production. Their top talents in the receiving game are two top-ten draft picks in the last two seasons. Outside of Grady Jarrett and Lorenzo Carter, the defensive line is littered with individual contributors from the last two drafts. From Arnold Ebiketie and Deangelo Malone to Ta’Quon Graham.

It’s an exciting and fun time to be a Falcons fan (never thought I’d say that again). If there is anything that this trip to the west coast has taught us, it is that this team is young, scrappy, and won’t go down without a fight.

As Terry Fontenot builds this roster back up, the Atlanta Falcons faithful will find other potential closers emerge. However, having veterans like Patterson and Jarrett take the pressure off these young, talented players and allow them to develop their leadership abilities. Hell, A.J. Terrell has already reached captain status in only year three. Who’s next? Kyle Pitts? Drake London? Mykal Walker?

After years of wondering how much talent is on this roster, it’s nice to have a bit of hope going into the future.

Spencer Knight contract extension and what it means for Florida

Spencer Knight’s contract extension keeps him in Florida until 2026. Here’s what it means for him and the team

Florida Panthers goalie Spencer Knight signed a three-year contract extension with the team
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Florida Panthers signed goaltender Spencer Knight to a three-year contract extension with an AAV of 4.5 million dollars. Knight, now on the last year of his entry deal, is locked up through the 2025-26 NHL season. The timing of this news surprised many fans. Common practice would suggest that the team would wait until the offseason to get this deal done.

While certainly unexpected, the Spencer Knight contract extension clarifies Florida’s future plans at the position, and is a worthy gamble to take on before the season starts.

The Player

Spencer Knight, at just 21 years old, has exceeded even the most lofty expectations placed upon him. He finished his first full season in the NHL with a 19-9-3 record and .908 save percentage over 32 games.

Those numbers may not suggest that Knight is anything more than a backup goalie right now. What separates him, however, is his exponential improvement over the year. After returning from an AHL stint in February, Knight finished the season very strong. Via statmuse, his last 14 games resulted in a record of 10-3-1 with a .921 save percentage.

That stretch alone showed what Knight could be in a few short years. It’s also likely what enticed the Panthers to get a contract done sooner rather than later. Waiting until the offseason could have shot his price up significantly. If Knight plays as well this year as he did down the stretch last year, he would likely command far more than his current deal.

The Contract

At 4.5 million dollars, this is a very clear bridge deal for Knight. It is far too expensive to pay for a traditional backup, but significantly less than most starters are paid.

This deal resembles a contract signed by Jake Oettinger earlier this offseason. Oettinger, the 23 year old star goalie prospect for Dallas, signed a three-year contract with a 4 million dollar AAV.

That deal gave the framework for the Spencer Knight contract extension, but it is worth noting the higher value for Knight’s deal. Oettinger has done more at this point in his career to earn a higher contract. The figure Knight received is a bet on the future.

Since this contract starts next year, his potential jump this year factors into the price point. In addition, his pedigree as the former thirteenth overall pick and a college superstar also plays a part.

Still, if there are any concerns about his NHL play, look no further than the exponential growth he displayed in just his first season mentioned above. This may seem like a bit of an overpay as of now, but taking chances on internal improvement is how good teams become great.

The future Implications

One under-the-radar part of the Spencer Knight contract extension is the length. As mentioned earlier, his new contract ends in 2026. Florida’s other goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, also has a contract ending in 2026.

Bobrovsky’s much maligned contract has been a point of contention within the organization. He has not lived up to his ten million dollar cap hit, and his full no movement clause has made it impossible to find a suitor for him. In all likelihood, they will need to work around it until then.

Knight’s extension may be a worthy solution to the problem. In the short term, he can take over for Bob at any time as Bob’s age begins to catch up with him. In the long term, The Panthers will have the cap space give Knight a raise when this contract expires.

Of course, this plan means the Panthers may end up with the league’s most expensive backup in a couple years. This will probably hurt their depth at other positions, but the Panthers can’t do anything about that without an obvious trade partner. The team has to chalk it up to the sins of Dale Tallon and deal with the resulting consequences.

Spencer Knight represents another key piece of the Panthers’ bright future. This contract extension shows continued dedication to internal improvement and perennial contention. Paying goaltenders always comes with some risk (see Sergei Bobrovsky) but Zito and company have done a good job making smart, sensible decisions when it comes to player personnel, something most Panther fans will agree is an entirely welcome breath of fresh air.

Follow @samdman12321 on twitter

Follow @ATB_network on twitter

The Atlanta Falcons West Coast Trip is Over, What Did We Learn?

The Atlanta Falcons west coast trip has come to an end, and the team went 1-1 on their trip. Back-to-back west coast games are notoriously tough on east coast teams, but Atlanta showed a lot of resolve. It’s still early in the year, but we’ve learned a lot about the team since their deflating Week 1 loss. I was able to attend both games and came away with a few thoughts after watching the team up close.

Drake London smiling after scoring his 2nd Touchdown of his career.
Photo Credit: Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons

Drake London is the real deal

Whether you think it’s fair or not, top 10 picks in the NFL Draft come with instant impact expectations. Well, Drake London met all of them on this Atlanta Falcons west coast trip. The rookie wide receiver had 50+ yards and a touchdown in each game, finishing with 140 yards for the entire trip. The game looks easy for Drake, and watching him from the stands I can see why. The kid is built like a freak and fits right in with Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson. London was known as a physical WR coming out of USC, and he shows it on this TD against Seattle.

The Defensive culture still hasn’t changed

Dean Pees’s now infamous rant about changing the culture of Atlanta’s defense hasn’t aged well. After a four sack game on opening weekend, the team had a combined total of three over this trip. Furthermore, the defense is giving up 27 points per game, 4.8 yards per rush, and is 27th in passing yards allowed per game at 271.3. There have, of course, been bright spots, like the play of Mykal Walker, but not enough to give fans confidence that change is finally here.

Hello run game, its been a while

The Falcons are running the ball with success at a rate we haven’t seen for some time. The team is averaging 156.7 rushing yards per game on the season, fifth-best in the NFL. The Atlanta Falcons west coast trip revealed what many Falcons fans already believed: Cordarrelle Patterson IS HIM. Hurdling would-be tacklers and trucking their teammates immediately afterwards is how you win the hearts of fans.

It’s not just the highlight plays either. Patterson has done a great job of picking up tough yardage in key down-and-distance situations, like the play below against the Rams. This helped set up the touchdown that ignited the team’s comeback.

This team has resolve

This Atlanta Falcons west coast trip could’ve easily ended in a 0-2 effort. After the first three quarters of the Rams game, it looked like the team was headed for 0-17. I can tell you personally that being in SoFi Stadium when the scoreboard read 28-3 felt like the seven levels of hell. Rams fans took advantage and tormented us fans in the stadium. But then, something amazing happened — the Falcons came back.

What the team showed in the final quarter of that game was something fans needed to see. After an inept start on both sides of the ball, the team started putting together successful plays, giving themselves a chance to win in the final moment. From the stands, the energy on the sideline never wavered and felt like this team truly believed in themselves.

That’s what matters most. It felt like they carried that fight into the Seattle game where they faced an opponent that also wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

Falcons fans, take a bow

It’s not easy being a Falcons fan in any scenario, but being one at an opposing team’s stadium feels like being the clown at a kids party. Jokes are hurled at you constantly, and people genuinely find the idea of cheering for the Dirty Birds hilarious.

There really isn’t much respect for the team outside of Atlanta, but that didn’t stop fans from showing up. Fans represented well and were cheering their hearts out at both games. So often Atlanta fans are forced to take the brunt of the jokes their teams create and still consistently fight. As an attending fan, I have to say this Atlanta Falcons west coast trip was worth the price of admission.

What’s next?

The team is 1-2 and faces a tough Cleveland defense and run game next week. The Falcons are coming off their most complete game of the year, and I expect that momentum to carry over. I’m not sure what the result of the game will be, but I can confidently say they will fight until the final play.

Dolphins vs Bills: Week 3 Preview

Dolphins ATB recaps the Week 2 comeback victory against the Ravens and preview the keys to success, in their Week 3 matchup against the Bills.

Dolphins vs Bills

This Dolphins vs Bills matchup presents Miami with a real chance to make a statement to the rest of the league, even in defeat. If the Dolphins can keep the game close, a strong performance will put the league on notice that they are a legitimate post-season contender.

Dolphins vs Bills Game Information

  • Date: Sunday, September 25
  • Time: 13:00 ET (18:00 UK Time)
  • Venue: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami FL
  • TV: CBS and Sky Sports NFL
  • Record: Dolphins (2-0) Bills (2-0)

Week 2 Recap

A comeback performance for the ages! For the first time in 711 games, a team was able to overcome a 21-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter. Miami were able to turn adversity into opportunity, following a shaky first half, to pull off a stunning comeback against a very strong Ravens’ side.

Strengths:

  • Offensive productivity on third down
  • Noticeable elevation in Tua’s game in fourth quarter
  • Hill and Waddle = Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Improvements in the run game
  • Alex Ingold’s blocking contributions
  • Goal line run defense

Star Performer- Tua Tagovailoa

Have a day Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa!

Following a rocky first half performance, Tua elevated his game to become only the third Dolphins’ QB to throw for 6 TDs in a game, alongside Dan Marino and Bob Griese.

Tua finished the game 36/50 for 469 yards, 6 TDs and 2 INTs. Tua’s confidence and poise was such that he could have continued to score as and when was required.

In my Week 2 preview article I wrote that  “Tua needs to step up and elevate his game to a level which will allow him to take the game to this Ravens defense, in the event that the game turns into a shootout.” And a shoot-out it was.

Tua’s performance was a notable step towards silencing his biggest critics.  It is often said that the Dolphins win in spite of Tua. Well that was not the case in this game. Tua stepped up and carried the team forward in light of the defense’s early struggles.

I have to admit at half time, I for one was skeptical, with the offense seemingly having no answer to the Ravens who were able to score with ease. In my game day notes at half time, Alec Ingold was the Dolphins’ star performer. Lamar Jackson had an outstanding MVP caliber performance, yet Tua’s remarkable comeback performance was able to overcome the high bar that Jackson set.

Mandatory Credit: Dol-Fan UK Podcast

Honorable mentions:

While Tua had a career game, I would be remiss if I did not honor the superb performances of Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. The speedy tandem of receivers were all over the field and unplayable in the second half, despite Hill suffering from cramps and being doubtful to return to the game.

Excitement is certainly high as to what this Mike McDaniel offense can achieve this season.

Weaknesses:

  • Tua’s impatience- resulting in two unnecessary picks
  • Dolphins’ secondary playing too soft
  • Lack of pass rush

You know the defense is having a bad day when Xavien Howard is beaten time and time again. Howard had a PFF coverage grade of 41.7 against the Ravens allowing 5 receptions for 119 yards on 8 targets. The Dolphins secondary played too far off man, resulting in Howard being exploited against the speedy Bateman.

Buffalo Bills Week 2

The Bills are off to a red hot start in 2022, following wins against the Super Bowl Champions and last year’s #1 seed in the AFC. The Bills were relentless against the Titans putting up 34 unanswered points, with Josh Allen being allowed to rest up during the fourth quarter.

Buffalo are clicking on all fronts following another strong defensive performance in which they held the Titan’s offense to a mere 187 total yards. Tyreek Hill had more yards than the entire Titan’s offense in Week 2.

Dolphins vs Bills- Keys to Success

A battle of two undefeated teams, and staunch divisional rivals. This Dolphins vs Bills game is set up to be a real showdown for two teams with the playoffs firmly in their sights.

Buffalo are the consensus Super Bowl favorites and have dominated Miami in recent years. So what will the Dolphins need to do to stand a chance of going toe to toe with the Bills, who are #1 in scoring offense and #1 in scoring defense?

1. Improvements on Defense

It is safe to say that Buffalo has had their way with Miami in recent years. In 2021, the Dolphins were outscored 61-11, mainly attributable to Miami’s offensive woes.

In the Week 8 matchup, the Dolphins’ defense kept the game within one score until the fourth quarter when Buffalo ran away with the game. However, Tua and this offense are vastly improved and should help the defense by keeping Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense off the field.

If the Dolphins are to stand a chance in this game, their defense must improve and that starts with the pass rush. Jaelan Phillips and Jerome Baker have been incredibly quiet to start the season.

Strong performances from these two will not only limit the time that Allen has to sit in the pocket, but also take away his ability to escape the pocket and run with the ball.

2.  A Confident Tua

Tua is his own biggest critic, which is hard to believe given the amount of critics that he has. He was the first to admit that his first half performance was not up to standard, often trying to force plays when things were not clicking offensively.

However, in the second half against the Ravens, Tua played with more confidence than he ever has in his career and it showed. A confident Tua who plays with poise and consistency will be key to victory on Sunday.

“I want his confidence to outweigh his perfectionism, or whatever that word would be, so that he can continue along his journey, but also be a little more present in reality.”

Coach Mike McDaniel

Tua slowed down his game was able to focus his fundamentals and the individual play in question to deliver in key moments. I urge all Dolphins fans to watch the film breakdown below.

3. Discipline

While discipline is a key to victory in just about every game, Buffalo’s ability to punish on extended drives will be detrimental to any hopes that the Dolphins have in starting the season 3-0.

Special teams’ mistakes, forced interceptions and penalties almost resulted in Miami contributing to their own downfall in Week 2. Make no mistake, they will need to be at their very best to beat this Buffalo side.

Injury Concerns

Buffalo’s victory against the Titans did not come without a cost. With Tre’Davious White remaining on IR, the Bills secondary is badly beaten up. Both starting safeties, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer sat out of practice on Thursday.

Both Hill and Waddle will look to take full advantage of this on Sunday. Meanwhile, look for Gabe Davis to potentially return after just missing out in Week 2.

Miami are not without their own injury concerns. Terron Armstead (toe) did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday. Let us hope that this is just Miami being cautious with the highly experienced veteran not needing as many practice reps to be game ready.

The Dolphins also appear to have caught a break in their secondary. Despite not practicing on Wednesday, Xavien Howard returned to practice on Thursday and looks likely to play on Sunday. His involvement will be key to keeping the Dolphins in this game.

Follow Bradley Davies on Twitter: