It Ain't Easy Being Eli
I can’t believe I’m doing this again. I thought this was settled. I thought we all agreed to move on. Okay, fine - I was born for this moment.
Stop bashing Eli Apple.
Give it a rest. Whatever you have to say, it’s been said. Were you going to call him trash? A loser? A front-runner? Well, congratulations on having the most generic, as-seen-on-TV, Walmart-brand take on our Honeycrisp friend.
Does he have an off day in coverage every once and a (long) while? Sure - Ravens wide receiver DeMarcus Robinson blowing past him in the Wild Card round comes to mind. Does he talk maaaaaaaybe too much smack on Twitter? Debatable - and he certainly didn’t do himself any favors by throwing the kitchen sink at Stefon Diggs and the Buffalo Bills after the Bengals dominant win on Sunday night.
But here’s the thing, guys - Eli’s played alright. And given the circumstances, commendable even. Let’s take a step back for a second:
Last year, Eli was a nobody. He was a training camp signing who was thrust into a starting role because 2020 free-agent signing Trae Waynes was cooked cabbage. He wasn’t a star, but he filled his role admirably. He wasn’t the massive liability most expected (or hoped) he’d be. He was…fine. Just fine.
Now fast-forward to this season. Eli was back in his starting role as the #2 corner, opposite #1 Chidobe Awuzie. The Bengals started the year 0 - 2, but the defense was the unit keeping the team in games, not the offense. The Bengals began to pick up some steam, but the Halloween Nightmare against the Cleveland Browns struck. They lost not just the game to fall to 4 - 4 on the year, but they lost Awuzie, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the contest.
This was the worst-case scenario. Awuzie was playing the best ball of his career. He was blossoming into the prototypical, half-of-the-field-eraser corner who traveled with the opponent’s best receiver. Eli wasn’t ever going to be that kind of player.
It also meant that rookie Cam Taylor-Britt was going to be stepping into a starting role. For a team known for its depth across so many positions, the Bengals were suddenly and distressingly thin at cornerback. The defense had sprung a leak, and were going to try and plug it with a second-rounder and a spoiled Apple. Not great.
But wait a minute…the Bengals are fine on defense? They’re not giving up boatloads of passing yards? Eli isn’t a complete disaster?
Sì err…corretto. As impossible as it sounds, the defense has picked up exactly where it left off with Awuzie out of the picture. But how could this be?
The simple truth is that, just like last year, Eli has stepped up his game. Now, this is not to say that Eli is suddenly a shutdown cornerback. He’s not. But he’s perfectly, completely and absolutely fine. You could do better, sure - but you could also do much, much worse.
And now, with the Bengals on the brink of their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance, Eli is back in the spotlight and he doesn’t seem too interested in giving it up any time soon. Yes, some of his online shit-talk can get a little trite, but “Cancun on 3?” Come on, that’s gold.
You don’t have to like Eli. You don’t have to like the way he plays or his abrasive personality. But just like a soldier might disagree with someone’s speech but still fight for their right to say it, this Bengals team will practically die on the field to protect their mouthy teammate. It’s all for one, and one for all in Cincinnati, and that’s part of what has made this team so special.
So, go ahead. Call Eli a bum. Tell him he shouldn’t be in the NFL. Let him know how corny/mean/inappropriate he is. It won’t bother him, and I can guarantee it won’t bother the Bengals. If anything, you'll just steel their resolve.