The Cincinnati Bengals Cedric Peerman is a kickoff wrecking ball and coverage extraordinaire. Celebrating touchdowns and big returns on special teams is easy because of how visible they are. More difficult is seeing how a coverage unit works together to snuff out returns most of the time. When Chuck Zodda reviews the film, occasionally one man stands out on coverage, and makes it clear how the job gets done.
The Bengals Cedric Peerman, nominally a running back, is not a household name to most fans, having accumulated just 457 yards from scrimmage in six seasons after being selected in the 6th round of the 2009 draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Peerman never suited up for the Ravens, being waived prior to the 2009 season. He then bounced around the practice squads of the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions before finding a home with the Bengals in the 2010 season. Peerman has been a key figure on special teams for the past five years, and a team captain for the past two seasons.
Play One: I Feel the Need… The Need for Speed
Most teams align their strongest special teams players on the inside of kickoff formations, giving them the most direct route to the ball carrier, and the ability to influence a play – regardless of the direction the return takes.
As Peerman nears the first wave of Pittsburgh blockers, the alignment of his opponent suggests he wants to seal Peerman to the kick-side of the play. The Bengal captain Peerman has two choices here: He can attempt to go butt-side of the blocker, but risks opening up a gap in the coverage in doing so; or, he can use his speed to fly past the blocker before he can lay a hand on him – though this may leave him in a difficult position to make a tackle.
Returner Dri Archer (#13) energes from the end zone and cuts towards the center of the field. Peerman has cleared his blocker, but now faces another decision: Archer’s lead blocker – the other deep man for the Steelers – is several yards ahead and looking to clear a path. If Peerman directly engages him, it likely prevents him from making a play on the ball. Instead, Peerman loops behind the Steelers’ blocker, before cutting back to the inside to engage Archer:
He plants his left foot and quickly changes direction as Archer takes a horizontal route along the 10-yard line. Closing the gap quickly, he makes the tackle and makes Archer regret taking the ball out of the end zone:
Play Two: A Little Bit of Wiggle
Nugent kicks deep right and the Bengals narrow as they head downfield. As Peerman crosses the Cleveland 40-yard line, he encounters his first obstacle: Circled and enlarged, Craig Robertson (#53) attempts to seal Peerman to the right of the frame:
Peerman, reading Robertson’s hips, quickly decides to go butt-side on the blocker:
Although Peerman does not get through cleanly, he gets his hands up, and keeps Robertson’s hands away from his body as he fights downfield. Returner Justin Gilbert (#21) receives the ball in the end zone and gains speed. Peerman notices another blocker coming into view with Robertson trailing him after his failed block:
The Browns are setting up for a return to the left, as every blocker engaged is attempting to seal the Bengals to the right. The action of Gilbert’s lead blockers suggest this as well, and Peerman notices the blocker directly in front of him attempting to gain leverage in this direction. He quickly decides to make a speed move to avoid the block and take a direct route to Gilbert:
The Browns’ return team blocker gets his hands on Peerman’s shoulder, but does not slow him down. Gilbert is now out of the end zone and moving towards the center of the field, and Peerman now has an unimpeded path to the returner. He takes advantage of this open space, putting a hard stick on Gilbert, and forcing a fumble that was eventually recovered by the Browns:
Play Three: It Takes More than Two, Baby
Having shown speed and strong decision-making in the two plays above, Peerman shows yet another key to his success in this play against the Buffalo Bills. He aligns as the R4, with Nugent kicking deep to the right again:
As the ball flies through the air, Peerman ends up on top of the numbers as he crosses the 30-yard line. The Bills attempt a double-team, with two blockers attempting to clear a path directly through Peerman:
Peerman’s choice here is to either widen and go around the double-team – creating a seam in the coverage unit – or to split it and maintain his lane while potentially giving up additional yardage. Like Captain James T. Kirk with the Kobayashi Maru, Peerman doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios. He splits the double-team, wedging himself between the blockers:
Neither of the Bills can cleanly get in position to counter Peerman, as he knifes between the two Buffalo blockers and closes on returner Denarius Moore (#17). Peerman uses his strength to break free of the double-team and emerges with a lane to Moore:
The Bengals L2 and R2 (red boxes) do a tremendous job keeping the play contained to the inside, allowing interior players such as Peerman to make a play on Moore. Peerman takes a quick hop to the outside and tackles Moore after only a 19-yard return:
Peerman possesses three traits that make him incredibly valuable on kickoff coverage: he is fast enough to speed past blockers, has great spatial awareness to make the proper decision, and has the strength to fight through blocks when he cannot avoid them.
Through Week 10, Nugent has launched 50 kickoffs, with 25 of them going for touchbacks. Out of the 25 that were returned, Peerman has made tackles on 7 of them, good for 28% of his team’s tackles on kickoff coverage. No other player this year has more than 5 tackles on kickoff coverage, and Peerman also tied for the league lead in 2014 with 10 tackles in this area. He is an elite player on special teams, and a tremendous asset for the Bengals due to his ability in this phase of the game.
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Chuck Zodda knows the importance of staying in your lane, how to fake a punt return, the humanity of punters, proper placekicking technique and the Jets.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.