Although it came as no surprise, the news that Mike Zimmer left the Cincinnati Bengals to become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings is potentially a huge loss for Cincinnati going forward. Zimmer has been the mastermind behind one of the league’s most consistent defenses over the last half-decade, doing so with a roster full of castaways (see Adam “sometimes Pacman” Jones and Terrence Newman) and guys nobody gave a chance (see Vontaze Burfict). The Cincinnati Bengals recent identity has been an inconsistent offense anchored by a dominating defense, and much of the team’s success can be directly attributed to Zimmer and his relentless defensive attack. Former players rave about his football acumen, passion, and intensity, all of which should serve the Vikings very well heading into the future.
However, the question remains: what happens to the Bengals defense without Zimmer, and will it effect their fantasy football value? New Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther, in his own words, “is not Mike Zimmer”. While lacking the fiery temperament of his former boss, Guenther has been instrumental in helping tap into the immense talent of Vontaze Burfict. As the linebacker coach, Guenther has been heavily involved in molding Vontaze into the field general he is today. Furthermore, Guenther presumably commands the respect of his players – Burfict, on a $480,000 salary this past season, is flying Guenther and his wife to the Pro Bowl to forge an even stronger bond with his new coordinator.
Ultimately, the success of the Bengals defense stems from its heart. Burfict is clearly the heart and soul of this Bengal’s defense, transforming a unit that was once too “nice” into one that brings the “nasty” Marvin Lewis has wanted since his days as the Defensive Coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. The fact that Burfict is already reaching out to Guenther further demonstrates the continued maturation of Vontaze Burfict and indicates his desire to become a truly great player in this league. While losing Zimmer is huge, Cincinnati’s defense finally has its unquestioned leader on the field, bringing passion and intensity to every play. This, combined with Guenther’s knowledge of the Bengals (he has spent the past 9 seasons with the team, including the last two as linebackers coach), a dominating defensive-line, and Marvin Lewis’ defensive pedigree should help mitigate the loss of one of the game’s truly great defensive minds.
While it is obviously too early to tell exactly how the Bengals will cope with the loss of Zimmer, the foundation is in place to continue to perform as one of the elite defenses in the league. Although uncertainty surrounds the future of star defensive end Michael Johnson, having defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap signed to long-term deals combined with Burfict’s presence should provide the nucleus for a front-seven that should continue to dominate for years to come.