Beat Writer & Videographer
While the Bucs defense gets ready for T.O. and Ochocinco, the offense will have a tough matchup against cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall on Sunday.
Ever since the Bengals signed one of the most accomplished – and controversial – receivers in NFL history this offseason, all eyes have been on Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Or is it Batman and Robin?
But Cincinnati has another dynamic duo that plays on the defensive side of the ball. Cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall are as good of a tandem as it gets in the NFL. Both of them have a combined 29 interceptions in their brief professional careers and are going to be a tough test for quarterback Josh Freeman and Co.
“Both of those guys really don’t get enough credit because in the line of work they are in, Cincinnati leaves them on islands all the time,” said Freeman. “Those guys step up to the challenge week after week and do a tremendous job.”
Head coach Raheem Morris certainly acknowledges what they have been able to accomplish on the field and even coached Hall prior to him entering the NFL.
“Hall I know well. I coached him in the Senior Bowl,” said Morris. “He’s exciting, has great hip movement, great football skills, and I liked him a lot coming out of the Senior Bowl, and I like him a lot on tape. He has made a bunch of plays in this league so far.
“Joseph came into the league when I was at Kansas State so I really didn’t get a chance to evaluate him on tape, but you do admire the talent and what he is able to do… But those guys are a talented, young duo.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson says that it is not just Hall and Joseph that the Bucs need to be worried about, but the entire Cincinnati secondary. Backing up the Bengals cornerbacks are veteran safeties Chinedum Ndukwe (starter Roy Williams is likely out due to injury) and Chris Crooker. As a unit, the Bengals are a top-10 pass defense.
“Obviously, strong corners and they have a good safety group,” said Olson. “They have two strong corners and I just think it is a challenge every week. Early in the week we always try to go through with our players and point out a weak spot in the defensive scheme or the weak player. Certainly the Cincinnati Bengals have a good defense and it’s hard to find that player back there.”
There seems to be some debate as to which player is the better corner. While preparing for the two defensive backs, wide receivers coach Eric Yarber talked to a former Bengals player to get the lowdown.
“There’s no drop off from one to the other,” Yarber said. “I did a little scouting by talking with T.J. Houshmandzadeh and asked him to tell me about these two corners. He said that they are pretty much equal. One is a little faster than the other and one is a little more athletic, but they are two good corners. The coaches think Leon Hall is the best, but T.J. thinks Johnathan Joseph is the best. He thinks they are 1A and 1B. I like both of those guys when they are in press-man coverage.”
While Joseph (5’11”/190) does not have an interception yet this season, Hall (5’11’/195) already has three picks and five passes defensed. Both of these players have Pro Bowl potential, and Freeman knows that he and his receivers are going to have to make some plays that they might not normally have to during the course of a game.
“We understand that there is going to be some contested passes, or some throws where I need Mike Williams to make a play, or me to throw a perfect ball, but we understand that and we invite the opportunity and the challenge. I’m really excited to play against another AFC North defense and a team that is (ranked ninth) versus the pass.”
The entire starting Bengals secondary has a total of 26 seasons of NFL experience. Meanwhile, the Bucs top four receivers consist of two rookies (Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn), a second-year player (Sammie Stroughter), and a journeyman receiver with seven career receptions (Micheal Spurlock). However, Olson is not worried about the lack of experience from his wide outs.
“Our wide receivers – they are young – and there is no fear in those guys,” said Olson. “They don’t know any better. They just go out and play and do what is asked of them. We are looking forward to the challenge and I am sure the wide receivers are too.”
Spurlock is one of those guys that are looking forward to going up against those two stout cornerbacks, but says it is just another week for the Bucs.
“It’s a challenge every week that we go out,” said Spurlock. “They have a strong secondary, but we are going to do some things to try and minimize that. We are in the NFL; every corner is going to be a test so we don’t think anybody is weaker than another opponent. We just go out and make sure that we do what we do and minimize what they do. This week is the same thing. They have some good secondary guys, but we think we have some good receivers so we will see how that matchup goes.”
While Spurlock is treating this matchup like any other, Stroughter knows it will be a difficult contest due to how well Hall and Joseph study the game.
“They do a whole bunch of film study and understand route combinations and splits,” Stroughter said. “They are students of the game. They understand and know tendencies. You can see that by their production and how they cover.”
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