Carlos Dunlap introduces himself to Browns quarterback Austin Davis.
CLEVELAND - It makes you wonder how good that Bengals defense was in 1970.
In Sunday's 37-3 victory over the Browns, the current Bengals held a team to 10 points or less for the fifth time in the last six games and are on pace to allow a 16-game franchise- low 261 points. That's a measly 74 points since the end of October, but on the way to the playoffs in 1970 they allowed just 64 points in six straight for their best streak ever.
But this stifling siege is pretty memorable, too. On Sunday safety Reggie Nelson got an interception for the fourth straight game to jack his NFL-leading total to seven as the veterans held together a patchwork secondary populated by a rookie class that finally got to run in the Dawg Pound.
"I'm really excited about that,'" said nose tackle Domata Peko, the defense's elder who secured his career best fourth sack. "Going into this long stretch here, especially going into the playoffs, you're going to need some guys to step up. It was a good experience for the young guys to get their feet wet."
With starting safety George Iloka (groin) and slot cornerback Leon Hall (back) inactive, fourth-round pick Josh Shaw got his most significant time in the slot until he hurt his back late in the first half on a collision with third-year safety Shawn Williams, making his second start.
Shaw's injury doesn't appear to be serious, but it did force rookie cornerback Troy Hill on to the field for his NFL debut, 24 hours after he was promoted from the practice squad. The Browns weren't exactly blessed at receiver with Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel already out, veteran Dwayne Bowe inactive, and their best receiver, Travis Benjamin not on the field after hurting his shoulder early in the game.
But the kids helped make sure they got absolutely nothing. Shaw showed his signature physicality before he left with four tackles and Hill, an undrafted rookie from Oregon, had three more.
"The young kids played really well. They paid attention to detail," said cornerback Adam Jones. "Josh played really good, Troy played really good. It was good for us."
The offense hosted three debuts with first-rounder Cedric Ogbuehi taking his first snap as an extra tackle on running back Jeremy Hill's one-yard touchdown run and then with five minutes left Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis offered a glimpse of the future when Ogbuehi went to left tackle and second-rounder Jake Fisher went to right tackle.
Meanwhile, with tight end Tyler Eifert iced with a pinched nerve, fifth-rounder C.J. Uzomah made his debut at tight end with a catch and seventh-rounder Mario Alford, buttressing special teams in the injury shuffles, also had his first NFL catch at wide receiver.
"With our injuries eight rookies suited up today," Lewis said. "Eight of our draft picks, which was great for them to get some playing time and an opportunity for them to get out there and play today. It was a good opportunity for them, and I thought the other guys raised their level, which was what we needed with the guys out that we had out today to raise the level around the rest of the football team. I was proud of that."
The Bengals' blend of youth and experience is the envy of the league and nowhere is it more evident than on this defense that has its eyes set on winning the NFL scoring title at 16 points per game.
"We have so many leaders, so much depth," said WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict. "Adam can relate to his corner. I can relate to Paul Dawson. They watch us during practice."
While Hall and Shaw (as well as third-round linebacker P.J. Dawson) cut their teeth, left end Carlos Dunlap tied his career best with a sack that gave him 9.5 on the season. Peko got that elusive fourth sack for his career high in his 10th season and Nelson's career-best seven picks in his ninth season put him one away from David Fulcher's Bengals safety record.
"We're having a great year on both sides of the football. Everyone's got a career high," Dunlap said. "Everyone is blessed on both sides of the ball. Reggie has the league lead in interceptions and me and Geno (Atkins) are chasing the league for sacks. It's the combination of rushing and picking them up. Don't sleep on Adam Jones. He's running routes with the receivers."
With their No. 31 rush offense, the Browns are just a miserable matchup with the Bengals because Cincinnati's four-man pass rush feasts on those third-and-longs with a secondary that plasters. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins went nuts again on a rookie for the second straight week when first-rounder Cameron Erving had to play because left guard Joel Bitonio left early with an injury. Atkins didn't have a sack, but he and end Wallace Gilberry each had three hits on quarterback Austin Davis in his first Browns' start.
"That's the mode for our defense. Make them one dimensional so we can get to the fun stuff," said Dunlap, who got his sack when he switched sides and the Browns chose to block him with a tight end instead of Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas. "I don't think they'll do that again. I wanted to get it on Joe."
At least they tried to block Dunlap. When right end Michael Johnson made the biggest play of the game, a 10-yard sack on fourth-and-11 from the Bengals 36 in a 7-0 game, the Browns tried to adjust to Nelson coming off the left side in a blitz and left Johnson alone.
That led to a touchdown and they heated up Davis on a fourth-and-one a few minutes later. Shaw set up the fourth when he made an open-field tackle on wide receiver Brian Hartline.
They made Davis overthrow it on a play-action rollout when they were draped on tight end Gary Barnidge. But only after Adam Jones jumped the route on Hartline going in motion, forcing Davis to double pump, as Dunlap bore down on him.
That turned into a field goal for a 17-0 lead and that was it.
The weekly linebacker goals, spurred by the marauding pair of Burfict and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, were met for a third straight game. Holding the Browns to below their rush average of 74 (it was 68) and Barnidge, their best target, to without a TD and no more than five catches. He had five for 59 yards.
Burfict gummed up things as usual with two hits for a loss in the run game, Maualuga had three tackles and a hit on Davis, and when they set the tempo in the first half Browns backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. combined for 27 yards on nine rushes.
They came in knowing the Browns had nothing to lose and that they'd probably face some fourth downs. The defense got the ball back on both conversion tries in the second quarter to effectively take the spirit out of them by halftime.
"Our goal was to keep them out of field-goal range," Burfict said. "We knew it was going to be tough for them to score on us. We just wanted to get them out of field-goal range. I was kind of upset they got that field goal at halftime. It's a little harder when teams are running a hurry-up. Just more mistakes for them and us. I'm kind of upset they got three points."
They're certainly not handing out any.
Cincinnati Bengals travel to Cleveland to play the Browns in week 13 of the regular season 12/06/2015