Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

January 3, 2013

AARON SNYDER: Crocker proven crucial pickup

ASHLAND — Chris Crocker received much of the blame 12 months ago.

After starting all 16 games for the first time in five seasons and being in the middle of the secondary amidst a surprise dash to the playoffs, it looked as if the Marshall product still had a few good years left in him.

Then, a disastrous day led to his short-lived demise.

Missed tackles and a failed interception by the strong safety were referred to as turning points in the Bengals’ 31-10 loss to the Houston Texans last January.

Three months later, the 10-year veteran was released.

The Bengals began the season with high hopes and seemed happy with their roster. However, they underachieved early and the secondary struggled mightily.

Through three games, the defense ranked 29th in yards allowed and 30th in points.

That week, Cincinnati brought back Crocker.

Heading into the deja vu playoff date at Houston, the Bengals are worlds better in both categories — Cincinnati’s D is currently sixth in yards allowed an eighth in points.

That’s a heck of a significant jump, and Crocker can’t be overlooked as at least one reason why. He’s been the glue of a secondary that also consists of steady cornerback Leon Hall and much-improved free safety Reggie Nelson. Cornerback Adam Jones might be playing better than ever.

A Geno Atkins-led front four has wreaked havoc on offensive lines all season long. The group, which also includes freakishly athletic defensive-end duo Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, racked up a franchise-best 51 sacks.

“It’s a good accomplishment. We’re all getting after it,” said Atkins, a Pro Bowler, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Houston has struggled to protect quarterback Matt Schaub recently, relenting 13 sacks in the past four games.

Cincinnati’s defense also has two interceptions for touchdowns in the last two games.

Crocker is tied with Nelson in picks with three.

Limited in practice on Wednesday after suffering a quad injury on Sunday, Crocker’s return is important to the Bengals’ success on Saturday (4:30 p.m., NBC).

He said he felt good earlier this week, so that’s good enough for me to make my prediction.

Redemption will be had for both Crocker and his teammates.

Snyder says: Bengals 24, Texans 13.

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