Through nine weeks, the Bengals are one of the league's most surprising teams at 6-3. A big part of that is a defense that is flourishing, both against the run and the pass.
Yet as the Bengals prepare for a key road game against the Ravens, they must learn to do so without the presence of Leon Hall. The young cornerback was in the midst of a Pro Bowl campaign, but suffered a torn left Achilles tendon in last week's loss to Pittsburgh.
Now, with Hall done for the season, Cincinnati's defense must pick up the pieces and, as The Associated Press notes, find a way to keep opposing receivers out of the end zone.
There's no question Hall is one of the most indispensable players for the Bengals. Drafted in the first round in 2007, Hall immediately became an emerging star. In his first four seasons, Hall tallied 256 tackles, 18 interceptions and 70 pass deflections. In fact, in his first career start, a "Monday Night Football" clash with the Ravens, Hall registered four tackles and a fumble recovery.
Entering this season, both Hall and the Bengals sought to remain together. That goal became reality when Hall signed a four-year contract extension worth $39 million. But for at least the rest of this season, the Bengals aren't getting what they paid for.
So, without Hall to cover one half of the field, the Bengals' backups need to step up. One contender is former first-round draft pick Kelly Jennings. Jennings spent five seasons with the Seahawks, who drafted him in 2006, before being traded to Cincinnati last August. With Hall sidelined, Jennings slides into the starting role, at least for now.
Another possibility is the troubled Adam "Pacman" Jones. Jones has had numerous run-ins with the law, clouding an otherwise talented skill set on the field. Now in his second stint with the Bengals, Jones is trying to re-capture his one-time reputation of one of the top cornerbacks in the league, but he's working on healing from injuries to his neck, groin and hamstring.
No matter who replaces Hall this Sunday, it's likely Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will take advantage of some fresh meat. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are a dangerous combination and the Ravens are coming off of a game in which they threw the ball more than 50 times.
As for Cincinnati's receiver situation, rookie A.J. Green is currently a "game-time" decision with an injured knee. Green leads all rookies in receptions (41), receiving yards (635) and touchdowns (six).