Free safety Jessie Bates III became a Bengals cornerstone soon after they drafted him in the second round in 2018. And while this isn't the first time he's been on a 4-2 team, the big games like Sunday in Baltimore (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) have been few and far between.
But maybe since he was less than a minute away from getting to 5-1 in that rookie year before it suddenly became 4-2, he's hesitant to call this game against the AFC North-leading Ravens the biggest game he's had here.
"We've always wanted to play for a reason," Bates said last week. "I feel like the last couple of years we're just kind of going out there, just trying to build something and win a football game. But now, you're starting to talk about the top of the division, playoffs, stuff like that. As you're having success, expectations come with that, and I'm sure these guys in the locker room and myself are very well prepared for that."
But what is new is that Bates is on a defense commensurate with his bountiful abilities. He thinks there's a pretty good reason why he hasn't had much of a chance to add to his ten career interceptions. But he certainly knows that middle linebacker Logan Wilson's four picks lead all NFL backers and account for all but one of the Bengals interceptions this season.
"I think it's because our up front is playing really well, getting to the quarterback so there's not a lot of time for them to throw it deep," Bates said. "But I know those opportunities will come. Logan has kind of got off to a hot start. I'm a little jealous but I'll be all right. I'll get there."
He's also blitzing more on those passing downs instead of hanging back there, although Pro Football Focus has him for only four pass rushes. But so far he's got two pressures on a hit and hurry and giving defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo even more reason to continue to be more out there with pressure than his two previous seasons as the play-caller.
Anarumo seems not to be playing as much zone and is heating up more because he knows he's got more effective cover people than in the past.
"I think that's what Coach Lou likes to do. He doesn't like to back off," Bate said. "He likes to be a little bit more aggressive. As you've seen, I've blitzed a lot more than I ever have in my career. That's a big deal for me. I like to show my value in this league, not just being a middle of the field safety but as a blitzed, a man-to-man guy, etc. It's something to continue to build on."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Bates gets a newcomer in the secondary with cornerback Tre Flowers, claimed off waivers ten days ago from Seattle, making his Bengals debut Sunday. Flowers brings 40 NFL starts and it's going to be interesting to see how and when Anarumo uses him in a scheme that's much different than the one was in with Seattle.
And Anarumo has been pretty pleased with Eli Apple, the starting cornerback replacing the injured Trae Waynes. Head coach Zac Taylor won't say if they expect Waynes back by the end of the season. There is some hope there with his hamstring not needing surgery, but they also look comfortable with Apple, Flowers and Darius Phillips.
"We're kind of working through it with him," Anarumo said. "He's been nothing but open to learning what we're doing and jumped into it big-time, right away this week — or starting last week, I should say. He practiced last Friday after a red-eye (flight). Got here at five in the morning. He's determined to show he can do some things. So we'll kind of see how it goes through the week. But we'll see. I'm still not sure on that."
Sunday's inactives are pretty much the same as last week after one of the healthiest weeks in Taylor's tenure: wide receiver Mike Thomas, cornerback Nick McCloud, pass rusher Darius Hodge and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin.