BY GEOFF HOBSON
In the three years before Lewis arrived, the Bengals had a minus-38 takeaway-giveaway differential. In his 24 games as head coach, they are at plus-9 after forcing five (three interceptions, two fumbles) against a Dallas team Sunday that had just 12 giveaways coming into the game.
The Bengals are now plus-seven this season and lead the NFL with 23 forced fumbles and 11 recoveries. Their 21 takeaways are now just three shy of the 24 they had all last season. They've also recovered one more fumble than all of last season, and they're at their highest point since they finished 1996 at plus-19.
Ask the man who should know why. Linebacker Brian Simmons not only leads the team in tackles this season, but he's returned an interception for a touchdown, forced two fumbles, and Sunday he recovered his first fumble of the season when cornerback Tory James knocked the ball loose from wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
"Run to the ball"
"Since I've been here, I've never seen anything like this," said Simmons, who arrived in 1998, a year the Bengals had just 20 total turnovers. "Guys are tackling, guys are going after the ball, guys like Tory James and Deltha O'Neal are playing the ball well in the air. Once you get a little bit of success at it, guys start expecting it. Guys start talking about it, and play to create these things."
"Let's keep doing it. Keep working on tackling, keep working on getting the ball out," Lewis said. "Remember that they can come in bunches. And they've helped us get through some things."
James came up with his NFL-best fifth interception Sunday, but it was his clipping of Keyshawn that set up three points.
"We work on that," said James of stripping the ball. "That's what you're supposed to do.
Simmons says it's no accident.
"Whenever I've played, my thing is to run to the ball," Simmons said. "If you don't, you don't give yourself a chance to do something. If you're going to be on the field, I'm not going to watch. I'm going to be a part of it."
Lewis pulled Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson aside late in the third quarter when his frustration showed about not getting the ball. It appeared Johnson felt like he was open and not getting the ball, and he took off his helmet a few times to gesture, He also slammed down the ball one time after he caught it.
Lewis looked to take him out on a third and long after Johnson had just two catches for 19 yards. Then the Bengals went to him right away two straight times for a total of 25 yards when they got the ball back. He ended up with eight catches for 74 yards, the first time in three games he's outcaught his cousin as Keyshawn finished with four catches for 58 yards.
Johnson denied he was frustrated, but Lewis said in his news conference about no one specific, "Let's not show our (frustration) the times you don't get the ball as much as we think you should get it."
Lewis did note Johnson was the first to greet Matt Schobel downfield after his 76-yard touchdown catch.
"No one was more excited than No. 85," Lewis said of Johnson. "I was excited to see how excited he was chasing Schobes down the field."