Cedric Peerman finds balance on and off the field.
Darrin Simmons, the Bengals' passionate special teams coordinator who can sometimes wilt the English language like his units sap opposing returners, is nearly at a loss for words.
He is in his Paul Brown Stadium office watching Cedric Peerman ply his trade on tape and while Simmons scatters the men back and forth on the screen in Buffalo with his clicker, Peerman bowls them over with an almost elegant energy.
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Not once, but twice Peerman is sprinting down the field into that hell hole of muscle and bone and ligaments to somehow not only defeat a double team, but also make the tackle inside the Bills 15. And last Sunday the one time the Rams didn't double team him, he made the tackle.
"Any time they use two guys to try and stop one of yours and you win that battle, that's an enormous play for us," Simmons says when he does put it into words.
Which is probably fitting. Peerman, who has a license to preach in the Commonwealth of Virginia and deputized to commit mayhem in 32 NFL cities, "wears two hats," according to his closest friend on the team, fellow special teams co-captain Vincent Rey. Peerman double teams his role as the quiet, gentle spiritual leader on a team that leads the NFL's most vicious division.
"He's a gentle guy off the field. On the field, it's by any means necessary to help our team win," Rey says. "The way he approaches the game and approaches winning, I think that's a moral thing. Whatever it takes to help put your team in position to win."
But Buffalo is not the best in Peerman's Pro Bowl montage. The best is two weeks later in Pittsburgh, where Peerman again has avoided the bodies to throw down the dangerous Dri Archer twice inside the 20.
Then, when the Bengals have taken a 16-10 lead with 1:47 left and Archer is getting the ball for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's one last shot, Archer, simply and inexplicably, takes the touchback even though he puts his knee almost on the goal line.
Maybe not a no mas moment. But Archer, the AFC's second-leading kick returner, apparently doesn't want to chance another encounter with Peerman.
"Huge," Simmons says. "The game ends on the 16-yard line and the ball could have been closer than that."
No wonder the Bengals lead the NFL in the most important of unknown categories. The Drive Start. Bengals' foes start at the 19.6-yard line. The Patriots, led by the man who cut his teeth on special teams, Bill Belichick, are second at 19.9.
While America has been going to the refrigerator during punts and kickoffs, Peerman is having the best season in this 9-2 start that no one knows. Except his teammates and Simmons. They tell you he belongs in the Pro Bowl. His 12 total special tackles are tied for second among all special teamers behind only the 17 of Cleveland's Johnson Bademosi, according to NFL stats.
"Everyone knows he's the guy you have to block," says Rey, who serves as the special teams co-captain with Peerman. "He's got two guys on him and he's still making all these tackles inside the 20. He gets it. He's 29 years old and he's playing as fast as he's ever played. Maybe faster. He's the leader of our special teams."
Peerman and Bademosi meet in Sunday's intriguing backstory of the game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) in Cleveland and it shows why Peerman is so special. The 6-0, 200-pound Bademosi, a four-year veteran, is a cornerback-safety type. Simmons says the 5-10, 212-pound Peerman, plays like a safety.
"That's unique with the kind of production we get out of him," Simmons says. "His biggest attribute is his speed. What has happened to him this year is his experience has kicked in. He's seen a lot of looks down through the years."
Forget kickoffs for a second. Since the Green-Dalton Bengals were born in 2011, Peerman, who arrived the year before via waivers, has served as punter Kevin Huber's personal protector. That means he's the quarterback, calling the signals, setting the protection, forming the return.
"He's behind us," Rey says, "and then he's ahead of us getting down field."
While Simmons furiously raps his knuckles on anything wooden, the Bengals have allowed virtually nothing to the best punt returners in the game this season.
Since Baltimore's Michael Campanaro wriggled for 21 yards against them back on Sept. 27 for the longest return against them, the Bengals have faced Cleveland's Travis Benjamin (No. 2 in the league with a TD), Arizona Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson (No. 14 with a long of 38), Kansas City's De'Anthony Thomas (No. 16 with a long of 37), Houston rookie Keith Mumphrey (No. 18), the Rams' Tavon Austin (No. 19 with one TD), and Seattle rookie Tyler Lockett (No. 21 with one TD), and have allowed no touchdowns and a long of 12.
As usual, Darrin Simmons' coverage teams have been stingy.
And never mind arch nemesis Antonio Brown. They held him to just a fair catch in Pittsburgh.
"Kevin does a great job," Peerman says. "A guy like Austin is really slippery and so explosive. He's like (Adam Jones). Kevin kicked it to get him pinned on the sidelines. When we're able to cover that, it makes things a lot easier."
Punt cover looks so easy. But listen to Peerman list his responsibilities: "The biggest thing is protecting Kevin. You have to recognize what the defense is doing, get in the right call, and stay in your lanes. Everyone has to be accountable to the guy next to them."
In his sixth season in the NFL (it all began as an Ozzie Newsome draft pick in Baltimore), you forget how long Peerman has been around. After all, he was Carson Palmer's last target as a Bengal in the 2010 finale. He agrees with Simmons. He's playing as much with his head as his legs.
"I felt like last year I took a big step from previous years," Peerman says. "This year I've made some plays that people notice inside the 10 and 15. From that standpoint I'm getting better. It's experience. Watching tape. Having a good feel. And confidence. I'm playing with confidence. It's a combination of things."
But when it comes to busting those double teams, Simmons says it's really only one thing and one thing only: want to. Desire. That's how Pro Bowlers have to contend with double teams and double coverage, such as defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
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"The only difference is that Ced is doing it in 50 yards of space instead of a contained area," Simmons says.
And much like offensive coordinator Hue Jackson moves around his Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, Simmons moves around Peerman on kickoff coverage. He rotates him in four spots on both sides, but never far from the ball while keeping him in the interior.
"You have to move him around," Simmons says, "or else they get a bead on him on the double teams."
They're a bit of an odd couple, Simmons and Peerman. Simmons preaches fire and brimstone, Peerman the gospel.
"It's a big part of his life and I respect that," Simmons says. "I'm sure my language sometimes challenges him a little. I have great respect for him. I wish my language was a little more conducive to his sometimes."
No worries. Peerman is a pro who can adapt to all worlds. He certainly flourishes in the locker room, where he doesn't see himself as a spiritual leader in the tradition of Reggie Kelly.
"I never thought of it that way," Peerman says. "I just want to be a light for my teammates. It's been a pleasure to get to see guys grow."
As for the two hats, Peerman gets the dichotomy between the Good Book and a hard-hitting playbook. But he's only putting on one hat.
"I think The Bible says everything I do, I do unto the Lord," Peerman says. "That's what I try to do. God gave me the ability to run fast, so that's what I go out there and try to do. I think when I do that, I glorify Christ, I glorify God because I'm using those God-given abilities."
Another double team handled.