ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. _ Left end Carlos Dunlap, who has the second most sacks in Bengals history, didn't have any Sunday and neither did bookend Michael Johnson. But they were quite content to watch their linemates divide up five sacks of shell-shocked Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen in the first 24 minutes of a 26-13 pre-season victory over Buffalo.
How deep is this rotation? It was supposed to be a battle of two untried offensive lines. But by the end of the first half the Bengals defensive front had carried the day while their offensive counterparts kept quarterback Andy Dalton clean. The Bills actually brought in former Bengals center Russell Bodine off the bench to help quell the chaos. While nose tackle Andrew Billings logged the first 1.5 sacks of his career and sophomore nickel right end and pre-season sack leader Carl Lawson had 2.5 more, Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins had .5 and so did emerging second-year end-tackle Jordan Willis.
The defense's No. 1s did get nicked for 10 points in Dallas last week, but their offense ran only six plays while they were on the field. In the two series of the pre-season opener, they gave the Bears three yards on three carries and on Sunday they allowed Allen just six of 12 passing for 34 yards in the first half.
"I think this rotation is going to be pretty sweet, man," Dunlap said after Sunday's dismantling. "Me and Mike holding it down early and getting a break and these young guys come in and rush and we get a rest and then we come back and me and Mike get the reps we've been working nine years now."
Everybody had help, which is the scary thing. Billings got help from defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's call when he transfixed center Ryan Groy on his first sack and rode Allen before discarding him to the ground as the crowd booed. Dunlap wouldn't even say how it happened. "I saw it unfold," Dunlap said. "I'm not giving you any secrets." Billings, who was on top of Allen immediately, would only thank the person who put him in that spot.
But Billings only had himself to thank when he split one with Willis. Billings did what everybody did Sunday and pushed around Bills right guard John Miller. On this snap he went right through him and met Willis at Allen. A snap or two later Willis dropped down inside over Miller, beat him and chased Allen right into Lawson's waiting arms.
"Get off to a fast start. Get after them," Billings said. "Once you get a good hit on him, it changes the game. It really does."
Then there's Atkins up to his old tricks. He split one with Lawson when he walked back left guard Vlad Ducasse right smack into Allen and Allen pin-balled off him into Lawson.
Then Dunlap started talking about his secondary. Why not? The No. 1 DBs quietly didn't allow a 20-yard pass this preseason.
"The DBs gave us time today and made a rookie quarterback look like a rookie," Dunlap said. "That's the goal anytime you've got a young quarterback. Hit him early."
And Dunlap hit him late. Not late late. He hit him clean. But late in the half. Like the last minute. By that time Allen was like a battered boxer looking for his corner. Dunlap and Lawson were about to make him a grilled sandwich, but Allen escaped. Not before Dunlap grabbed him and threw him into the end zone as Allen threw it away. When Allen's head bounced off the turf, Dunlap let the officials know.
"When I got up he was holding his head," Dunlap said. "I told the ref he might want to check on him."
After three games the first defensive unit gave up ten points and just one touchdown and absolutely nothing Sunday when they played the entire first half and didn't let the Bills cross midfield, it might be time to check on this defense.
"Pretty sweet," Dunlap said of what could go on up front.