Mano A Mano: Wayne vs. Hall

The knock on cornerback Leon Hall prior to the 2007 draft was that he struggles in deep coverage. That critique reared its head on two separate occasions last week against Baltimore. This week, Hall will have to try to keep up with Colts star Reggie Wayne.

The Cincinnati Enquirer provided the gory details of Hall's foibles against Baltimore last week: "Hall was the victim on the two plays that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said broke his team's back. The first came midway through the third quarter, when the Bengals trailed just 13-3. Wideout Mark Clayton took a handoff from quarterback Joe Flacco, ran right and launched a perfect spiral to Derrick Mason, who caught it for a 32-yard touchdown ... 'It was man coverage,' Hall acknowledged. 'I went outside my responsibility. I don't like to tip my hat, but they got me on that one.'

On Baltimore's next possession, the Ravens victimized Hall again. Flacco threw 70 yards to Clayton, who ran a streak down the right sideline. Hall's coverage was good, he just didn't make a play. And Clayton's catch was better, a one-handed snag that left Hall lunging. 'You've got to play the ball there,' said Hall. 'If I don't intercept the ball, I have to get it out of his hands.'"

Hall struggled in man coverage last week vs. Baltimore
Andy Lyons/Getty

Can the Colts follow Baltimore's lead and exploit Hall deep? You better believe Hall will be looking to bounce back this week as he's matched against Colts WR Reggie Wayne. But you also better believe that Colts QB Peyton Manning has studied the Bengals-Ravens game tape extensively and will test Hall downfield if he sees man coverage.

One factor that has greatly effected Hall's play has been the injuries at the other corner spot. Starting left corner Johnathan Joseph has been placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. Joseph's backup, David Jones, is nursing knee injury and was inactive last week. So Jamar Fletcher got his first Bengal start and likely will start again this week.

As a result of the revolving left corners the Bengals are more likely to provide safety help to that side of the field and in turn, leave Hall in single coverage situations when they decide to have the other non-deep safety either blitz, cover the tight end or watch the backfield.

Reggie Wayne is a top-notch route runner who stretches the defense with his speed. Stretching the field is what Indianapolis will want to do against a corner like Leon Hall. Hall can have a hard time regaining position to play the ball on deep patterns and shows only average pure long speed. This week he'll need to do a better job of tracking the ball in the air because Wayne can reach the end zone from anywhere.

Leon is big and physical enough to press his opponent at the line of scrimmage. He might try that as his method of slowing down Wayne. But if Wayne can get off the press when Cincinnati leaves Hall in single coverage it'll lead to a big play. Is that something Hall is willing to risk?

Nonetheless, given the status and recent play of their corners, expect to see the Bengals in plenty of Cover 2 zone coverage. Marvin Lewis does not want to risk a repeat of what happened last week. That'll mean more of Peyton taking what the defense gives him and Wayne using his superb short to intermediate route running to frustrate Leon Hall.

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