BENGALS GAMEDAY: Photos, analysis, video highlights, stats, quotes* * *
Posted: 6:35 a.m.
Rashad Jeanty is playing with a rod in his leg. Landon Johnson played the second half with 12 stitches in his forearm. Dexter Jackson was getting his wrist taped in the locker room after making a desperate dive to save a touchdown.
The beleaguered Bengals defense isn't giving up and offered its third straight solid game Sunday. Like defensive end Justin Smith has said all year; it's simple, stupid.
After the Bengals kept a team out of the end zone for the first time all year in five red-zone stops, Smith praised defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan's simpler schemes for a unit that has had to deal with so much change. Sunday's game followed their first back-to-back games holding foes to less than 300 yards.
Coincidence or not, it was the third straight game the defense lined up Dhani Jones at weakside linebacker, Rashad Jeanty on the strong side, Landon Johnson in the middle and Robert Geathers at left end. Johnson left in the first half to get his arm stitched and returned with a wrap.
Coincidence or not, the Bengals pitched a shutout of the end zone a day after Bresnahan brought down one of his Sycamore Township buddies to speak to the defense. Defensive tackle John Thornton, Yankees fan, revealed that he gave Red Sox Gold Glove first baseman and Bengals diehard Kevin Youkilis a hard time before and after the quick talk.
But there is probably more to the continuity thing.
Jones and Jeanty teamed up on a red-zone turnover that prevented the Titans from tying the game early, Jones had a team-high nine tackles including a sack, and Jeanty had a fumble recovery and helped Jones and Smith make a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter.
"I wouldn't say at all it's because I've come back," said Jeanty, who broke his leg in preseason. "But I think we're playing together and we're playing for each other, that's for sure."
He literally had a hand in the game's biggest play. Early in the second quarter and the Bengals leading, 7-0, Jackson, the strong safety, got beat on a 73-yard pass from quarterback Vince Young to wide receiver Justin Gage. But even though Gage was behind him, Jackson was able to nudge him out with a dive at the Bengals 7.
Then on second down from the three-yard line, Jones blitzed from Young's back side and leveled the 6-5, 235-pound block of granite with a shot that knocked the ball loose and Jeanty recovered at the 5.
"It was a great play by Dhani and the secondary did a great, great job in coverage because he was holding on to the ball," Jeanty said. "They did the hard part. I just fell on it."
Smith, who had a hit on Young for one of his incompletions, says Jones is now becoming more of a factor since arriving the week of the season's third game.
"Chuck's done a great job knowing what defenses we have problems with and knowing which ones do well and keeping in the ones where everybody knows what they're doing," Smith said. "You don't have to have that extensive, crazy scheme. And the guys who just got here like Dhani are doing a great job picking it up."
"Red-zone defense has always been about attitude," Jones said. "When people talk football, it's the defensive line getting penetration, the secondary covering (receivers), and the linebackers making plays. It's been a long time coming ... the defensive linemen put some good pressure on him. They were in his face and tried to keep him around the edge."
Young appeared to reaggravate his quad injury, but the linemen still didn't let him get out of the pocket and allowed him to rush only twice for six yards.
One of those lineman was Thornton, the former Titan who made two huge plays on the Titans' first four third-down tries in a game the Bengals defense ended up 80 percent successful on third down.
The first one came on the third snap of the game on third-and-one when Thornton beat perennial Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae and submarined running back LenDale White for no gain to force a punt.
"We knew the formation. We didn't know what they were going to run, but we had an idea," Thornton said. "I got a good start on him."
The second one came early in the second quarter and forced a field goal with Young looking at a third-and-two from the Bengals 10. Young boxed around a low snap, and Thornton stayed in his lane to tip the pass away.
"A guy like Vince Young is a guy like Michael Vick," Smith said. "Those guys like to get out of pocket, you have to be more careful rushing. You have to take wider loops to the quarterback."
Simple as cornerback Johnathan Joseph's second interception of the season. That came on the Titans' third third-down of the game from the Bengals 47. Joseph was plastered on tight end Bo Scaife on a blitz and Young had to unload it. Joseph was close enough to reach in and tip it to himself.
"Great call in the huddle," said Joseph, who wouldn't elaborate. "Good call for a corner."
Asked the difference in a defense in which he helped give up 479 yards in Buffalo back on Nov. 4, Joseph said, "Being accountable. Playing together. Getting comfortable with each other."
Simple as telling time.
"The big reason we played well today is the offense kept the ball," Thornton said. "Look at Tennessee. They came in with one of the best time of possessions in the league and they're a top (4) defense. Last year they had the worst defense. Well, their offense is holding it this year. Our offense held it 38 minutes today and we had top five numbers."
The Titans came in keeping the ball an average of 32:36, behind only the Steelers and Patriots in the NFL. The Bengals uncorked a 38:30 Sunday, their best total since 38:40, a run of 41 games against Minnesota in the second game of the 2005 season. And nine minutes more than their average this season.
But the goal-line stand helped, too. The Titans couldn't jam it on 13 plays and they couldn't survive a Marvin Lewis challenge on running back Chris Brown's three-yard touchdown run. Replays showed Brown's knee touched the one-yard line on second down with Geathers and lineman Bryan Robinson making the stop. Then Jones, Jeanty and Smith came up big on White for no gain on third and then Young had to hurry an incomplete pass on fourth down after a botched snap.
"We really wanted that stop," Jeanty said. "Things have been tough for us in the red zone this year and we wanted to make sure we kept them out."
The defense is in the middle of the pack in the NFL in giving up touchdowns 51 percent of the time in the red zone. But it's the thought that counts. It was back on Nov. 4 in Buffalo that Jeanty missed Marshawn Lynch in the backfield on that miserable 56-yard touchdown run at the end of the game.
"I think everyone is getting settled in," Jeanty said. "It's a matter of knowing what the other guy is going to do, too."
So comfortable that Thornton, the Yankees fan, didn't mind hanging with one of the heroes of Red Sox Nation over the weekend.
"He said he's a big fan, that he follows us on the web site, so that was cool," Thornton said of Youkilis. "Everybody was attentive."
But probably a coincidence.
"The big thing is that the offense and defense both did what they had to do," Thornton said.