The Cincinnati Bengals won a major road contest over the Detroit Lions Sunday to bump their record to 5-2, but the team lost an integral star in the process.
Cornerback Leon Hall, who tore his Achilles in the 2011 season, went down early in the first quarter while defending a Matthew Stafford end zone pass to Calvin Johnson and clutched his Achilles before ripping his helmet off.
ESPN's Coley Harvey illustrated the point via Twitter:
While not the same leg as the injury he suffered in 2011, Hall clearly had the look of someone who knew exactly what was happening to his body as the training staff helped him from the field.
As Harvey goes on to report, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis confirmed the severity of the injury after the game:
The injury obviously had a major impact on the game, as Hall was the NFL's top slot corner and No. 3 ranked corner overall by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). In fact, the Cincinnati defense went on to surrender over 300 yards passing for the first time in 20 games as Bleacher Report's Andrea Hangst elaborates:
Stafford's 357 passing yards and three scores were the product of a variety of factors, including a guy by the name of Megatron, who went for 155 yards and two scores of his own on nine receptions.
Hall himself is not responsible for shadowing a guy like Johnson all game, but the ripple effect of his injury was felt. Veteran cornerback Terence Newman was left responsible for Johnson, while safety Chris Crocker and second-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick were left out to dry in the slot.
The result? Detroit racks up 434 yards of total offense and goes 13-of-19 on third down with three touchdowns while controlling the football for over 34 minutes.
Cincinnati's secondary will not always be tasked with stopping a Calvin Johnson, but the remaining corners offer little encouragement. Newman has serious lapses in coverage at times, as does Jones with injury concerns, and Kirkpatrick's play in limited NFL action despite this being his second season (the majority of the first was lost to injury) has some whispering the word "bust" already.
Further down the depth chart reside Brandon Ghee and Chris Lewis-Harris. The former has been impressive in spurts but has struggled with injuries, while the latter is a youngster with something to prove.
As Lewis told the media after the game via Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, coordinator Mike Zimmer now needs to find young guys he trusts in the confines of his defense:
"...Seeing him go down like that, it hurts. There’s nothing you can say about it knowing that he wanted to be out there real bad with us..." "Zim (defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer) and them have to find a young man who can step up. You can’t replace him but someone has to go battle with us. We’ve got a great group of athletes and now it is about the guy that Zim trusts the most."
While bringing in a third safety in the slot such as Crocker works in spurts, it's not something Zimmer will be able to continue to do all season. Cincinnati already boasts a linebacker unit that is miserable in coverage—hence the fact safety Taylor Mays enters the field as a nickel 'backer in passing scenarios.
The addition of another safety who struggles in coverage at the slot only gives an opposing offense more weaknesses to target.
There is no easy remedy to Hall's absence if it's truly going to be a lengthy one. Jones was stellar with Hall out two years ago, and even ranked as PFF's No. 11 overall corner in 2012, but his performance has taken a nosedive, and he now ranks as the No. 76 overall corner this year.
In a perfect world, Kirkpatrick steps up in a major way and proves he was worthy of the high selection. Even if that happens, the cornerback position has been horrible at staying healthy the past few seasons.
As a result, expect the Bengals to be active in the next few weeks looking for help at the position, as once again the injury bug has struck one of the most important spots on the roster in a pass-happy NFL.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling