Bengals CB duo among NFL's best

Bengals cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph will have a challenge this weekend keeping Pittsburgh's deep receiving corps in check. Getty Images

Never one to mince words, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer made a strong statement this week about Bengals cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall.

"I don’t know of a better tandem," Palmer said. "The two guys in Green Bay are really good, but I don’t think I would take either of those guys over our guys. Our guys are young, fast and physical."

It took a 6-2 start by the first-place Bengals for people outside of Cincinnati to realize what Palmer already sees: The Bengals have one of the top cornerback duos in the NFL.

Hall and Joseph have combined for eight interceptions, 23 passes defensed and 71 tackles through eight games. They are tested constantly by opponents but are a major reason why Cincinnati is fifth in the league in points allowed (16.9) this year.

In the era of free agency, Joseph and Hall had the rare opportunity to grow together in Cincinnati as former No. 1 draft picks. Joseph came out a year early as a junior in 2006, and Hall followed Joseph to Cincinnati in 2007.

Both players have been full-time starters at corner for three seasons and are playing the best football of their careers.

"Since day one, we’ve been locker mates, and really how we get along off the field helps with how well we communicate and get along on the field,” Hall said. “We kind of got the same personalities, we like and dislike the same things. So we just naturally became good friends on the team."

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be a huge challenge for Cincinnati’s secondary on Sunday. Pittsburgh has a deep group of receivers that includes veteran receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, tight end Heath Miller and emerging rookie Mike Wallace.

This year the Bengals have done a great job against top receivers, but they’ve struggled guarding additional receivers and tight ends. According to Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., that will be something to monitor closely when the two teams play this weekend.

"If Hall and Joseph battle Ward and Holmes to a draw, which I think is possible, I really like Wallace’s and Miller’s chance of having a huge game," Williamson said. "As good as those two are, they can’t account for everything Pittsburgh brings to the table weapons-wise."

In the first meeting Sept. 27, Wallace shredded Cincinnati’s defense from the No. 3 receiver position with seven catches for 102 yards. The Steelers led 20-9 in the fourth quarter before Palmer led the Bengals on two touchdown drives in the final 9:14 of the game.

Opponents average an astounding 36 pass attempts per game against the Bengals. Naturally that drives up Cincinnati’s pass defense numbers as the team allows 241 yards per game. But Palmer and the Bengals’ offense are constantly putting pressure on opponents to keep up with the scoring output.

The two cornerbacks are very similar. Each is listed at 5-foot-10, and Hall is only six pounds bigger at 199 pounds. Joseph is a little more athletic, and Hall is a little more physical. Both credit facing Palmer and Cincinnati’s deep receiver corps in practice every day as one major reason for their development.

The two have been working on their hands this year, and it has paid off as both are forcing turnovers and playing at a Pro Bowl level.

Cincinnati’s coaching staff noticed that Hall and Joseph got their hands on a lot of balls but didn’t finish the play. This season Joseph already has tied his career high with four interceptions and Hall also has four picks, which is one shy of his career best.

There are several great cornerback tandems in the NFL. The AFC North blog ranks Hall and Joseph No. 3 in the league behind Al Harris and Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers and Darrelle Revis and Lito Sheppard of the New York Jets.

Other teams such as the Denver Broncos (Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman), Philadelphia Eagles (Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown) and San Diego Chargers (Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie) also have very good cornerbacks.

But Palmer was willing to go to bat for his teammates, and with the way the Bengals are playing defensively, it’s hard to argue with the results.

"It feels good," Hall said of the quarterback's endorsement. "When it comes from the leader of the team, especially with a guy like Carson, it means a lot. But being the person that I am, it doesn’t mean a lot if we don’t keep playing. I know Johnathan feels the same way."