News Item: Leon Hall is Ruler of the Jungle at Paycor Stadium for Saturday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 9 and NFL Network) against the Vikings.
OK kids, think about a cornerback as smooth as DJ Turner II, as physical as Cam Taylor-Britt, and as feisty and as savvy in the slot as Mike Hilton.
That would be Leon Lastarza Hall, one of the most underrated players in Bengals history who was a fixture on the corner for 121 games and nine seasons. You can't help but be reminded of Hall whenever you look at Turner, a polished rookie out of Michigan who has quickly acclimated to the starting lineup.
"That's how we do it. That's the standard at Michigan. There's something about that place up in Ann Arbor. It's a special place," said Hall with a smile Thursday as he visited old friend Nick Cosgray in the Bengals training room.
"I think he's playing really well. I watched him at Michigan and I love that he and (Michigan safety Dax Hill) are here. Great additions. I think (Turner) is doing really well. Especially the last few weeks, he's made some timely big-time plays for us which turned the momentum in our direction or toward the offense. He's been fun to watch."
Hall played as smoothly as they come. As smooth as Bengals play-by-play voice Dan Hoard's call of his pick-six in the 2012 Wild Card in Houston ("His second in three weeks"), so his take on Turner is striking.
"He looks great. He looks so comfortable out there, which I admire because I don't ever remember feeling how he looks out there," Hall said. "It wasn't as easy for me as he makes it look sometimes. Especially being so young."
If it sounds like Hall is watching "us," and "our," he is. He settled in Cincinnati with wife Jessica long ago and plans to have her, his three sons, and a nephew with him as he presides Saturday. The secondary coach at Cincinnati Country Day, Hall keeps tabs on his old team and his descendants in the defensive backfield. He thinks his kids might be wearing that old No. 29 now worn by Taylor-Britt. It won't be Sunday because Taylor-Britt is on injured reserve.
"One of my favorites. He's fun to watch," Hall said. "He seems like he's one of these guys that just loves to play the game. If he had to pay to play, he'd be one of these guys doing the same thing out there. He's a playmaker. And, I like his number."
Hall says he had plenty of fun playing here (he finished in 2018 in Oakland with old friend Paul Guenther), but one interception stands out. From 2009 in the next-to-last game of the season at Paycor.
Four plays after Carson Palmer's third-down touchdown pass to Chad Ocho Cinco with 2:03 left gave them a 17-10 lead over the Chiefs, Hall went airborne in front of Chiefs wide receiver Chris Chambers to pick off Matt Cassel's deep throw at the Bengals 19.
"It sealed the division and it was on our sideline, which is always amazing. The energy on the sideline and in the stadium was unforgettable," Hall said. "We swept the division. That was a special year."
Hall had 26 of those as a Bengal. Only Pro Football Hall-of Famer Ken Riley (65) and Louis Breeden (33) had more interceptions on the Cincinnati corner. Turner has been talking about needing to get that first interception. With his fellow Wolverine ruling, Saturday would be as good a day as any for No. 1.
But Hall, who had five as a rookie, counsels patience. He didn't have any the next season until three in the next-to-last game.
"It will come. You never want to stress about those," Hall said. "The game plan is going to be the game plan. Rely on your technique to put you in the right spot to make those plays and when they come at you, make sure you hold on to it."
MAIZE NUMBERS: Here are some Next Gen Numbers Hall would like.
Turner has forced a Tight Window on a third of his targets as a nearest defender, tied for fourth among cornerbacks. He's been targeted on 14% of his coverage snaps, fourth lowest among cornerbacks. Meanwhile, Dax Hill has an interception or pass defended on 32.3% of his targets, good for second in the league.
MATCHUPS GALORE: You've got to love Saturday's matchup via Next Gen Stats.
The Vikings not only lead the NFL in blitz percentage, they have sent at least six blitzers on 28% of drop-back passes while also dropping at least eight on 22.3% of dropbacks. Both lead the league.
But 53 % of Bengals quarterback Jake Browning's passes have come out in under 2.5 seconds, which would be the fifth-highest rate among qualified passers. Plus, he's averaging 8.8 yards per attempt with three touchdowns, no picks, and a passer rating of 128.4 passer rating against the blitz for the third-highest passer rating vs. pressure.
And how about Browning and those tight throws? Only Dak Prescott (146) has more yards in tight windows than Browning's 136 in the last two weeks.
Up front, Jonah Williams has allowed a 6.9% quarterback pressure rate this season for the third-lowest among right tackles. Meanwhile, Vikings pass rusher supreme Danielle Hunter, matching Trey Hendrickson's 13.5 sacks, has a 14.1% pressure rate on his snaps, tied for the NFL's sixth highest. Hunter has been more effective rushing from the right side (20.3%) than the left (10.9%).
And, forget all that. Browning has led the Bengals to 34 points in each of the last two games. The Vikings are allowing just 15 points per game in the last eight weeks to lead the NFL.
BLITZ LOOK: If anyone knows Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores, it is Bengals cornerbacks coach Charles Burks. When he was the head coach of the Dolphins in 2019, Flores reached into tiny Southeastern Oklahoma State, pulled out its bright up-and-coming defensive coordinator, and hired him as a defensive assistant.
It turned out to also be a fortuitous move for the Bengals because since he arrived here in 2022, Burks has done a terrific job helping develop second-rounders Taylor-Britt and Turner, as well as seventh-rounder D.J. Ivey.
Burks counts Flores as a mentor ("We talk all the time") and made sure he was sitting right behind him in every meeting. Here is Burks' take on Flores' notorious changing blitz looks.
"Ultimately, he's trying to put pressure on the offensive line and quarterback and forcing them to make quick decisions," Burks said this week. "When you attack those two positions, that's the center of the offense is the premise of what he's trying to do."
Jonah Williams is wary of the challenge, but confident in the guy making the trigger decisions.
"That's one of the things Jake's great at," Williams said. "Really smart guy. Really cerebral. Sees the field for all it is. He's going to be a great coach in the future whenever he's done with football. He's got that same football intellect. He's got to know where we can protect and where we can't and have the outs and be on the same page."
Williams thought they had a good practice Wednesday, probably the closest thing to a full-scale practice this short week. While Browning has nice numbers against the blitz, he has yet to face one with as many different looks as this one.
"It's a very multiple, versatile scheme that presents a lot of different looks and makes it hard for the quarterback to know what's coming," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan this week. "I've always had a lot of respect for the defense coordinators that do a good job with their blitz looks in their coverage, looks looking very similar pre-snap and they don't give much away. It's really on the quarterback to react.
"He's got to see. He thinks it's an all-out pressure, but now it's a max drop coverage. The quarterback's got to react And their goal is to try to make the quarterback hold the ball while any number of things slow his process down … There are not many people doing what they're doing. And it's been very effective for them. They're good at it and they make it very stressful to go play against these guys."
INJURY REPORT: The only Bengal on it is special teams backer Joe Bachie (oblique). He's questionable, but he did go limited Thursday.