Leon Hall picked off Bears QB Jay Cutler twice. (Bengals photo)
Posted: 7:10 a.m.
While the Bengals were blowing out the Bears on Sunday, Bengals defensive lineman Frostee Rucker was blowing kisses to his mother in the downtown end zone whenever he made a play in the 45-10 victory over the Bears.
Which was often as the undermanned Bengals defensive line, armed with that elusive big lead, teed off on quarterback Jay Cutler out of their nickel package once the Bengals leaped to a 21-0 lead on the Bears in the first 18 minutes.
"It's a lot easier to play defense," said safety Chris Crocker, "when you have a 21-0 lead."
If offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski called a perfect game, then defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer nearly matched him every O for every X by keeping Cutler so off-balance that Zimmer lured him into three interceptions by backing out and into blitzes all day.
"The way they pointed their line," said right end Jon Fanene, "we thought we could hurt them with blitzes from the weak side. And whoever blitzed, backers, corners, safeties, they were getting there."
But sometimes Zimmer called off the dogs and just relied on an aggressive four-man front and let Cutler try to decipher the jammed passing lanes. Rucker had a sack, a tackle for loss, and three quarterback hurries in just his third appearance of the season.
Bristling with being put on the inactive lost so much and hurting with a nicked ankle, Rucker got out his frustrations in front of Mom, in from the West Coast for the first time this year.
"Frostee's a good old player," said defensive tackle Tank Johnson. "He just has to stay healthy."
Why should he? Nobody else on the line has. Fanene, replacing sack leader Antwan Odom in his sixth NFL start, missed the last two practices of the week and said Sunday he was still fighting it.
"You're talking to the wrong guy. I didn't do anything today," Fanene said.
But he played because he had to. Defensive tackle Domata Peko started even though he left last week's game with a painful knee bruise. Defensive tackle Pat Sims nursed a shoulder glitch and Johnson gutted through his second straight game on a torn tendon on the bottom of his foot. Rucker, who missed the last couple of games with the sore ankle, had also been inactive because there was no room.
"After awhile, I wasn't looking at the numbers I was going against; I was just eating," Rucker said. "Just having an opportunity to play because of some injuries and getting the short end of the stick. After last season I wanted to capitalize on that and I haven't had a chance to do that. It's my opportunity to get it and I'm going to run with it."
Since the Bengals were in nickel most of the last 40 minutes, Rucker did much of his damage at tackle a la Odom while Johnson and Peko didn't have to bang it as much snap after snap.
"All we had to do was put together a complete game and we've got a good team," Tank Johnson said. "We've got a bunch of hungry football players. We might not have the most big names, but we've got a bunch of hungry football players and sometimes that's all you need."
After promising an angry defense following the Texans pelting the Bengals for 472 yards, the most in 22 games under Zimmer, Crocker helped stuff the Bears on 35 yards rushing, the second fewest in head coach Marvin Lewis' tenure. Crocker had one of the interceptions and set up another one when his diving tip in front of wide receiver Earl Bennett went to cornerback Leon Hall for one of his two interceptions.
"Film study; calculated guess," Crocker said. "This week we went back to basics. We tackled, we covered, we ran, we fought. What we didn't do last week. The kind of film we put out there last week was a stab in the back to the defensive coordinator, to your coaches. To you because that's your portfolio and we needed to play better."
And they did. Crocker, as usual, was all over the place with the pick, a forced fumble and two deflections. Hall had seven tackles and two picks to give him three on the season and tie him for the team lead with fellow staring corner Johnathan Joseph, who also had seven tackles. Middle linebacker Dhani Jones had seven tackles and recovered Crocker's forced fumble.
"I have to give the credit to Dhani. He gets those (linebackers) up every week. He's like our coach on the field," Crocker said. "A lot of those passes that were sailing on the quarterback, (the backers) were getting underneath and making it a hard throw."
Crocker was amazed to watch from the sidelines at how disillusioned and gassed the Bears defensive line seemed to get as the Bengals offense piled up play after play. On the other hand, the Bengals front looked fresh all day.
"They're banged up, but we've got depth there," Crocker said. "These guys played a lot last year because of injury and it's showing up now."
The line certainly showed up. Rucker made sure of that.
"I just wanted to let her know I was out there," he said of the waves and kisses to his mother.
Cutler had been kissed enough to know.