Star power? Zimmer didn't need it to build Bengals' top-10 defense

  • Blog Post by: Mark Craig
  • April 8, 2014 - 6:54 AM

Monday, we took a glimpse at how new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner might affect the career path of Kyle Rudolph, a quality young player with the skillset to reach the next level in Turner's tight end-friendly offense.

Turner, of course, also has a well-documented history of being running back-friendly and quarterback-friendly. And, come to think of it, some of his receivers -- from Michael Irvin in the early 1990s to Josh Gordon last season -- probably would suggest ole Norv's system was quite friendly to their careers as well.

Turner will have some star power to work with in Rudolph, Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings. At quarterback, he'll at least have a veteran in Matt Cassel, and could be handed a hot-shot rookie depending on how next month's draft falls together.

Defensively, the Vikings have added or retained many intriguing pieces this offseason. But none would be considered a big-name player along the lines of what the Vikings have on offense.

So today, we'll take a look at how the coaching staff might impact a defensive unit that's not nearly as star-studded as its offensive counterpart.

Although George Edwards is the defensive coordinator, head coach Mike Zimmer's universally-touted status as NFL defensive guru means he will own the defensive results -- good, bad, ugly or 2013-esque -- whether he likes it or not. Defensively, the primary hope for the franchise resides not as much in the new players who were acquired as the new head coach who was hired.

Good luck, Mike. You may need it.

The Vikings ranked 31st in yards allowed per game (397.6), last in scoring defense (30.0) and 20th in takeaways (20) in 2013. Meanwhile, the Bengals, with Zimmer as defensive coordinator, ranked third in yards per game (305.5), fifth in scoring defense (19.1) and third in takeaways (31).

Although Zimmer is staring up at his next mountain, it's no more daunting than what he was looking at in the spring of 2008 when Marvin Lewis hired him in Cincinnati. Here's a look at the Bengals under Lewis before and after Zimmer was hired:

2003 to 2007 (Five seasons): Ranked 27th or worse in yards allowed in four of Lewis' first five seasons. In 2007, Cincinnati ranked 27th in yards allowed (348.8) and 24th in scoring defense (24.1). They also ranked third in takeaways (35).

2008 to 2013 (Six seasons): In Zimmer's first season, the Bengals improved 15 spots to 12th in yards allowed (325.5) and 12 spots in scoring defense (22.8). They did drop 14 spots in takeaways (24). In 2011, 2012 and last season, the Bengals ranked in the top 10 in both yards allowed and scoring defense. In the past two seasons they ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed, scoring defense and takeaways.

Most impressive stat: In the 18 seasons right before Zimmer was hired, the Bengals had one season in which they ranked in the top 10 in defense. In Zimmer's six seasons, they ranked in the top 10 four times.

Second most impressive stat: This might be even more encouraging to Vikings fans considering the defense currently lacks an All-Pro caliber player (although that could change soon, especially if free safety Harrison Smith stays healthy and continues to emerge). In Zimmer's six seasons in Cincinnati, he had only one player (tackle Geno Atkins in 2012) make first-team Associated Press All-Pro. In 2003, when Zimmer was coordinating a Cowboys defense that ranked No. 1 in the league, he had one AP All-Pro first-teamer (safety Roy Williams). That same year, five other teams had multiple first-team AP All-Pro defenders. Baltimore and New England had three apiece.

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