Babes in Toyland


Carlos Dunlap had two more sacks Sunday.

Special teams captain and WILL linebacker Brandon Johnson gets the credit for the "Fisher-Price Package" and "The Gerber Package" nicknames, and it's the kids that get the credit for the pressure as the Bengals play out their Toy Story in the final stages of this season.

On Sunday the young Bengals defensive linemen came up with another veteran performance as rookie left end Carlos Dunlap offered his third multi-sack game in four weeks and rookie tackle Geno Atkins came up with another sack as the Bengals chased another rookie, quarterback Colt McCoy, all the way back to Texas in the Bengals' 19-17 victory Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

And second-year right end Michael Johnson had no stats, but helped open up things inside, where Robert Geathers had a tipped pass and tackle Pat Sims secured the club's fourth sack of the day. Suddenly, the team that was dead last in sacks in the NFL for much of the season is 30th with back-to-back four-sack games and at least one sack in the last seven games.  

"We call them everything. The Fisher-Price Package. The Gerber Package. They're babies," Johnson said. "Sometimes they act like kids and you have to get on them. But one thing I love about them is they play with a great enthusiasm and love for the game. Nobody ever does everything right all the time. Neither do they. But they always play with a passion and energy that you really can't duplicate."

Dunlap, the second-rounder from Florida, has literally been unblockable since he started playing regularly against Indianapolis six games ago, when he got his first career sack off Peyton Manning. He had two more Sunday and now has seven, 1.5 off Justin Smith's club rookie record set in 2001.

"They keep doing good things. Probably the most positive and productive thing that's come out of this season is their development," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "They'll go into the offseason feeling good about things. Obviously, there's a lot of work to do prior to next year, but Carlos particularly is getting his feet wet. Pat came up with a big play today. Up front in a four-man group like that, so much of it is working together. (Domata) Peko and Robert Geathers keep driving those guys further and further."

If there's one guy who knows exactly what these kids mean, it's a veteran. Cornerback Keiwan Ratliff. straight from the UFL after signing on Wednesday, is in his third stint here. In his first stop from 2004 to 2007, he did what he did Sunday and played slot corner. But he never had pressure like this on the passer.

"Those boys were really playing up there," said Ratliff after his first glance at them. "Dunlap, once he learns it and is going every play, he can be unbelievable. We already know how good Peko can be and Robert and those other guys. With those young guys in there with the older guys, that's a great combination."

It was a great mix on Sunday until the final 2:13. Ratliff is the only guy besides Geathers to play for both Lewis' first defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, and this one, Mike Zimmer. Ratliff looked to play flawlessly for about 30 snaps, until the Bengals were in Cover 2 and the Browns sent all their receivers vertical. Ratliff mistimed his coverage on wide receiver Brian Robiske, gambled for the pick and let him get past him for a 46-yard touchdown play that cut the lead to 19-17.

"When he jumped right in front of me, it threw off my jump. I was caught in between," Ratliff said. "I should have made the sure tackle and just pushed him out of bounds. Instead, I was caught in between and jumped anyway. It doesn't matter. I'm a vet. I don't care if I've been out seven games or 10 games. I've got to make that play."

Ratliff was drafted under secondary coach Kevin Coyle, so it was like riding a bike for him.

"It was one of the easiest games I ever played in," he said. "Coach Zimmer and Coach Coyle made it so easy. They gave us every tip. Everything we saw in the game, we knew it during practice. It's one of those things as a DB, if you listen to your coaches and listen to the film and do what you've been doing all week, you're going to be in the right position."

Ratliff had to admit thar Sunday was a lot different than '04, '05 and '06.

"It's a whole different mindset on this defense," Ratliff said. "It was an offensive-minded team. Carson, Chad, T.J. Rudi, throwing it all around. But this is a legitimate top 10 defense. If you play your assignment and do everything you're supposed to do, the defense works every time."

It helps to have talent like Dunlap, who doesn't turn 22 until February. Atkins is just 22 and Johnson 23.

"The season didn't start out the way we wanted, but we still have a lot of fight in us," said Dunlap, who got his shot as four defensive linemen went on injured reserve. "A lot of guys are getting an opportunity since some guys are banged up. Guys like myself, Geno Atkins, Pat Sims and Michael Johnson are getting a chance to capitalize.

"We all feed off of each other, and that's why they give our package a nickname. When we're on the field together, there is a different type of energy. Nothing but love."

Johnson thinks it won't be Toyland for long. He thinks he sees successors to that Colts tandem of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

"Mark my words," Johnson said. "Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are going to become the best defensive ends in the NFL. They're going to be like Freeney and Mathis. Or any other great pair of rushers. All these young linemen, they're going to carry this franchise for a long time."

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