Zimmer has sack of faith

Posted Oct 21, 2010

Jonathan Fanene

You can’t like some of the numbers heading into Sunday’s 1 p.m. game in Atlanta (Cincinnati’s Channel 12), but that’s OK. Never mind Bobby Petrino. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer hates numbers.

Lost in Zimmer’s heartfelt rip job of Petrino after Wednesday’s practice (the most candid comments in Cincinnati sports since the last time the Reds’ Marty Brennaman used his Hall of Fame mike) were his even more passionate comments about his players.

“We’re not discouraged. We’re going to keep playing and keep getting better. I’m encouraged,” Zimmer said as his players walked into the locker room behind him. “Because I know these guys ... these black shirts. They’ll fight.”

He gets one of them back Sunday in Jon Fanene, the end/tackle sidelined since the opener with a hamstring injury. In his first four seasons, Fanene had a total of one sack before putting together a career year last year with six. But with the Bengals next to last in sacks per pass, Antwan Odom suspended, second-rounder Carlos Dunlap not impressing in practice, and the Falcons ranked fifth in converting third downs, Fanene suddenly looks like Deacon Jones.

“We’ll see,” Zimmer said. “We thought some of these other guys would do something by now, too.”

The Bengals are ranked 23rd in preventing third downs and while they are 31st getting to the passer, Atlanta is ranked 15th in protecting quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons may be having problems at left tackle with Sam Baker, but what impresses Zimmer so much about Ryan is how fast he gets rid of the ball.

It presents Zimmer with a dilemma underscored in the Tampa Bay game, where he wasn’t looking for sacks and wanted the inexperienced Josh Freeman to unload quickly.

“I’m probably blitzing too much; the ball’s coming out,” Zimmer said. “We can cover and make the quarterback hold the ball. We can do that, too. It’s just the philosophy you want. Do you want to try and get the ball out or do you want to try and make him hold it? There are different ways to go. This kid (Ryan) is going to get the ball out.”

Zimmer won’t say, naturally, if he’ll try to make Ryan go against his style and hold the ball.

“Last week I tried to make him get it out; it’s a week-to-week proposition,” he said. “I might rush two guys the whole game. Maybe one. Maybe none. We might double everybody.”

What the Bengals do know they have in Fanene is an athletic, versatile guy that can play anywhere across the front. Athletic enough and versatile enough that he was a high school quarterback.

“I didn’t know that,” Zimmer said. “Must have been the option.”

“I like Fanene,” he said. “He’s a good kid, a hard worker and a try-hard guy. He’s going to keep going the whole time. He’s very conscientious. Never wants to make a mistake ... he got some (sacks) on first and second down. We don’t have any there. That’s a big part if you can get some on first and second down.”

Fanene, who may join safety Chinedum Ndukwe as seventh-round starters Sunday, has made a six-year career out of hustle and quickness. He’s not very big at 6-4, 292 pounds, but he can be a force in there among the big guys. And he brings in the calm of 54 NFL games to a pass-rushing line that has been using a lot of second-year Michael Johnson at right end and rookie tackle Geno Atkins inside.

As for Dunlap, the rookie pass rusher out of Florida, Zimmer has indicated he’d like to see more passion in practice.

“Size can help you, but speed kills in this game,” Fanene said before Wednesday’s practice. “There’s a lot of pressure on us right now. We just need to keep the quarterback in the pocket, sack him, stay in our gap, trust our technique and make plays.”

Zimmer is livid about not only his defense's failure to keep the passer in the pocket, but also their inability to finish off sacks. He’s still shaking his head about the third-and-five on Tampa Bay’s tying touchdown drive when linemen Robert Geathers and Frostee Rucker had Freeman in their sights in the open field and he still scrambled for a first down.

“Watch the tape. See how many free hits we have on the quarterback,” Zimmer said. “We may not have sacks, but we’ve had free hits.”

Fanene has watched the Tampa Bay tape as well as the two games before that, Carolina and Cleveland, and he sees the same thing: A lot of the big plays have come on the quarterback getting out of the pocket.

“He’s pretty good,” Fanene said of Ryan. “He makes plays in the pocket and out of the pocket. He can throw. We need to keep him in the pocket and sack him. Once you get a good hit on him, he’ll start getting nervous and start making bad throws. If we just do our job, we’ll be all right.”

Zimmer says he’s not just looking at just guys like Johnson and Atkins to do more. The kids have a combined one sack.

“Pass rush is a team thing,” he said. ‘We have to cover better. I have to coach better.”


Recent Articles

  • Hobson's Choice: Combine-ing efforts

    By Geoff Hobson - Posted Feb 17, 2017

    How much will health and wellness impact the draft, Bengaldom wonders. From all reports running back Giovani Bernard is having a terrific rehab from an ACL tear.

  • Where there is a Will, there is a Hall

    By Geoff Hobson - Posted Feb 15, 2017

    If Ken Anderson is the no-brainer as the Bengals’ best senior Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate (followed closely by Ken Riley), then Willie Anderson as the best right tackle of his time takes his rightful claim as the club’s best modern day Hall of Fame candidate.

  • Bengals give CB Benwikere fresh start

    By Geoff Hobson - Posted Feb 14, 2017

  • Bengals Host Event for Local Athletic Officials

    Posted Feb 14, 2017

    The InSideOut Initiative, in partnership with the Bengals, the NFL Foundation and the Ohio High School Athletic Association, hosted an event for local school athletic officials at Paul Brown Stadium on Tuesday.

  • Happy Birthday case

    By Geoff Hobson - Posted Feb 14, 2017

    Ken Anderson, the Bengals all-time leading passer, turns 68 later this week on Wednesday and in what has become an annual rite of the Ides of February we honor his birthday building his case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame with ten stats. Some you’ve seen. Some you haven’t. They come 10 days after Kurt Warner became the 26th quarterback voted into the Hall of Fame.