Bengals' first law of Newton: stop the run

The Bengals have shut down all kinds of quarterbacks in their 11-game winning streak at Paul Brown Stadium.

Big ones (Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco) and tall ones (Matt Ryan) and fast ones (Geno Smith) and Hall of Famers (Tom Brady) and busts (Jake Locker) and No. 1 overall picks (Andrew Luck) and seventh-rounders (Matt Cassel).

But they haven't faced anyone anywhere like the guy they face in Sunday's game at PBS (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) when they take on Carolina's 6-5, 245-pound Cam Newton, a No. 1 overall pick himself who led the Panthers into a playoff bye last year before losing his post-season debut.

"I would say the last one I faced with his talent would probably be Jamarcus Russell when he was out in Oakland," says Bengals defensive tackle Wallace Gilberry. "Hurts you running and has a big arm. It's a challenge and definitely something I'm up for. Never afraid of a challenge. He's an SEC guy, so I'm kind of familiar with him. He's getting better every week. He's coming off an injury and you can see he's getting better every week."

This isn't the Newton of 28 rushing touchdowns of his first three seasons, dwarfing the NFL quarterback record of New England's Steve Grogan with 16. Coming off a long battle with an ankle injury, Newton has rushed for just 42 yards and no touchdowns.

But he's staying in the pocket and not just because of his ankle. His 94.6 passer rating is more than seven points better than his career mark as his drop-back passing has markedly improved.

"I think it's more because he's a better passer. He doesn't have to take off and run if his first read isn't there like he did in earlier years," says Bengals safety George Iloka. "He doesn't have to run because he's a better passer. He gets in the pocket and makes all the reads."

But after giving up 220 rushing yards in New England last Sunday night and the Panthers vowing to get their once dominant run game revived from its No. 30 ranking, the Bengals still see the old Cam.

"When you play a running quarterback, you have to make sure all your lanes and gaps are taken care of, so when he scrambles you tackle him right away," Iloka says.

Those are the principles being discussed in the Bengals defensive room this week. Proper angles. Proper gaps. Tackling. All the things that went wrong earlier this week. Newton may have a dearth of playmakers at his disposal, but he's got an exciting rookie in wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (a 35-yard touchdown catch) and one of the finest tight ends in the NFL in Greg Olsen (a 37-yard touchdown catch) and add even the slightest hint pf a scramble and Newton is demanding of an offense.

"He's been kind of banged up…He's getting his confidence back every week. That's something we're definitely aware of and we'll try to exploit it, but at the same time he's a dual threat quarterback," Gilberry says. "If you try to contain him in the pocket, he can make those throws and if you let him outside he can hurt you running. He's one of those guys you have to be conscious of rushing and at the same time get around him and get him rattled because any quarterback with pressure makes some mistakes and that's what we want."

The Bengals certainly do that at home. Since their 23-17 victory over Baltimore on Dec. 30, 2012, the Bengals have given up 11 touchdowns in the 11-game winning streak and four of those were to the Colts' Andrew Luck, another No. 1 overall pick who has the only game in the streak where an opponent threw for more than a TD. They've got 21 interceptions in those 11 games and are frustrating quarterbacks to the tune of a 60.0 passer rating.

"It's so small. It may be one guy here, one guy here, it's not a big, glaring thing," says Gilberry of how they have to improve defending the run. "You watch the film and if you didn't know what you're looking for, you probably won't even notice it. But we know.

"That's something we have to get fixed and we can get it fixed. That's the beauty about it. We know what we've got to do. We know how to fix it.  We'll be fine. Just small things. Technique. Alignment. Assignment. We've identified it and know how to get it fixed."

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