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Matchup of the Game: Hard Drive vs. Rex



Cook, the hard drive of the Bengals offensive line, got a game ball from the coaches two weeks ago in Buffalo for recognizing the complexities of the Bills' countless pre-snap looks and it is even more of the same Sunday (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Jets at Paul Brown Stadium.

But better.

The Bills are good, but they're not as sophisticated or as talented as the Jets. Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, a Ryan disciple, doesn't have the young, athletic defensive line his mentor has in New York. And he only had four games in the system when Cook got him while Ryan has had five seasons to tinker and cultivate the Jets into the NFL's fourth-best defense.

But then, Cook has been starting as long as Ryan has been the Jets head coach and before that he had two seasons preparing for Ryan's schemes when Ryan was the defensive coordinator in Baltimore. And while Ryan is known for coming up with a new blitz look every game, it's not exactly a state secret because the fundamentals of what he's doing dates back to what his father Buddy Ryan did with the Bears 30 years ago.

"Cook has seen it all; he's been around," says left guard Clint Boling, who is suddenly getting some gray as a third-year player. "He's seen all kinds of football. Rex football. We've played the Ravens a bunch. I'm not worried too much about him."

Good coaches always leave their mark, so when Ryan left Baltimore after the 2008 season, Cook says the Ravens were still using many of Ryan's principles. Plus, Cook has played the Ryan Jets three times and in 2009 running back Cedric Benson set the Bengals single-game postseason rushing record against New York.

But Benson didn't do it against this front that is anchored by third-year Pro Bowl candidate Muhammad Wilkerson at end and first-round pick Sheldon Richardson at tackle.

"It's the most complicated scheme in the league," says offensive line coach Paul Alexander. "Their team is good for three reasons. Their scheme is exceptional. Their players are very good. And they play hard. (Ryan) breaks conventional rules in a lot of ways."

As Boling says, "We'll get all four of those guys at some point in the game because they move around so much. You have to study all their moves." It is the job of Cook as well as quarterback Andy Dalton to communicate what they see to the rest of the offense.

"The No. 1 trait for a center in a game against a Rex Ryan defense is experience and being a quick thinker," says an NFL scout, "because Rex will give you unorthodox looks where he will try to overload a protection to one side and get a free rusher. The ability of the center and quarterback working together to reassign people at the line of scrimmage as the play clock (winds down) is imperative."

Cook is the ultimate coach on the field, a 30-year-old no-nonsense Michigan native who gutted out getting his legs back underneath him early in the season after an ankle injury took him out of most of last year. Alexander, in his 19th season coaching the Bengals line, counts on Cook as his eyes and ears on the field and refers to him as a trench genius.

"If you measured his football IQ it would be 160; he played unbelievable against Buffalo," Alexander says. "He has a knack. It's an analytical thing for him. It's a special talent."

Here's how Alexander outlines Cook's challenge against Ryan: "He has all kinds of rules based on the different defensive structures and he has to recognize the multiple structures and follow the rules exactly. It's very logical. He just has to execute it at the right time."

Cook, who can often be seen at his locker playing word games on his ever-present iPad or sparking some kind of debate, likes to think outside the box. He missed his calling as an online editor. He sees the mind as a major part of the matter of football.

"I call myself a center. It's my job description to get everyone on the same page," Cook says. "You have to make sure no matter who is making the call, whether it's the quarterback or center  or tackle, it doesn't matter who. We all have to be on that page because there are a lot of different defenses and one guy can think it looks one way, but from a different point of view it's something else, so you have to make sure everyone sees the same thing."

Sure signs of Cook's prowess come from the joking. Boling needles him about how it's the quarterback that makes the calls and when offensive line assistant coach Kyle Caskey proctors the Saturday night quiz he gets on Cook whenever he's not the one to find the mistakes.

Seriously, Cook and Dalton have teamed into a pretty resourceful pair with Dalton getting more and more leeway to change things at the line of scrimmage.

"I was with Andy mainly when he was a rookie because I didn't play very much last year and he's come leaps and bounds," Cook says.  

The offensive line is coming off its best game of the season with Cook coordinating an excellent effort inside with Boling and right guard Kevin Zeitler that shut off the estimable Lions inside rush. Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese was still raving about the space Dalton had in the pocket last Sunday when he came off the practice field Wednesday.

"One of the advantages of a guy like Kyle Cook for the Bengals is that he's seen it all and he's really good at sorting through multiple looks. He's a bright guy that communicates well," the NFL scout says. "The Jets three young players inside are really good. The rookie is having a good year, Wilkerson is a budding star and the nose tackle (Damon Harrison) is a handful for a defense. This is one of the better defensive lines in the league."

But the Bengals have Cook's 160 in the middle of it all. And he'll be at home instead of on the road, where he said Buffalo was a lot louder than Detroit.

"It will be easier to pass off calls," he says.

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