Defense, take another bow


The Bengals defense held the Browns to just 169 total yards. (AP photo)

Posted: 7 a.m.

The reason the Bengals can play such effective ball-control offense is because they possess their best defense in a generation. It had that feel early on with great efforts against Pittsburgh and Baltimore and now the numbers say it after Sunday's 16-7 victory over Cleveland.

Yes, the Browns came in 31st in passing and 31st in scoring, but they had just come off scoring 37 points in Detroit and on Sunday they could manage just one touchdown and 169 yards, the fewest the Bengals have allowed since giving Pittsburgh 154 back on Dec. 4, 1983.

With Cincinnati able to throttle an old Bengals killer in running back Jamal Lewis on 40 yards in 11 carries while holding Cleveland to 58 yards on the ground, the Bengals extended their franchise record to seven straight games without allowing 100 yards rushing.

If there was ever a game to illustrate how the Bengals have changed their strengths to strength in both trenches, this is it. They ran it for 210 yards and kept it more than 38 minutes while the Browns could run it just 3.2 yards per carry.

It should be noted that offenses are a paltry 8-for-39 on third down against the Bengals in their last three division games because of how they stop the run on first and second down. On Sunday, the Browns were 4-for-14 and one of the third-down conversions came in the game's first two minutes. With the run stoned, the Bengals can sit on the pass on third down, where defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has developed a reputation among his players for adroitly breaking down protections.

The Bengals defense blew up one third-and-one on sheer power, a big play late in the first quarter just after the Bengals had taken a 3-0 lead. Defensive linemen Jon Fanene and Frostee Rucker stood their ground on a reverse to wide receiver Josh Cribbs for no gain.

"It makes them one dimensional," said safety Chris Crocker of the run defense. "Our guys up front are pretty stout. They can play. They're in the right spot. It's no secret that we have a one-gap system. The ball has to go somewhere. Guys are in the right spot making plays."

WILL linebacker Brandon Johnson doubled everybody else on the team with eight tackles as everyone stayed in their gaps.

"We've got a lot of guys up front playing well," said middle linebacker Dhani Jones. "They're in the proper gaps, we're working together. We know where each guy is going to be on a certain play, so you have to play off them sometimes."

But defense is all about attitude and as Jones said, "You can't play in the AFC North and be soft."

Or, as safety Chinedum Ndukwe calls it, "We just have a bunch of blue-collar guys that love the game of football."

Ndukwe helped make Sunday miserable for Browns quarterback Brady Quinn, his former high school and college teammate. They didn't talk during the game and after the game they shared "proud of yous," but in between a very inaccurate Quinn was an awful 15-of-34 for 100 yards.

The Bengals showed him a ton of looks on third down and Ndukwe said, "He knew we wanted him to throw it and he did it a lot."

"We gave him a lot of different looks and I think it hurt him," Crocker said. "We put a lot into our third-down defense. We really study ... it's not just knowing where we're going to run, it's how you execute it. I can tell you what the offense is going to run, but you still have to go out and make a play."

Stuffing the Browns was particularly pleasing to the Bengals. They feel like Cleveland is the team that ran it on them the best this season in the Oct. 4 overtime win, when they gave up a season-high 146 yards and Jerome Harrison had the only 100-yard game against them.

"Just staying in the gaps," Crocker said.

SLANTS AND SCREENS

» Crocker said he feels the defense played well and he's pleased to be 6-0, but he knows they have to play better soon: "We're going to have good teams come up really soon. We can't keep doing stupid penalties. That's the crutch. We let teams hang around. We have opportunities to close teams out and we don't."

» Left tackle Andrew Whitworth says the offense has to move on from its host of pre-snap penalties: "The way we came out and played physical, you're going to get calls like that. ... They were hollering for calls and you do that when you get knocked off the ball like that. We have to move on."

» Carson Palmer had no reaction to Browns nose tackle Shaun Rogers dragging him down roughly by the back of his shoulder pads, bouncing him off the turf and leaving Palmer prone for about 10 seconds. He said he only had the wind knocked out of him.

"It wasn't a dirty play," Palmer said. "He was just trying to get a piece of the jersey."

And Rogers sent word through right guard Bobbie Williams that he didn't mean to hurt Palmer.

» Wide receiver Maurice Purify had a big tackle of the dangerous Josh Cribbs on a kickoff.

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