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LInes in the turf

9-20-02, 4:30 p.m.


A sure sign that the Bengals are struggling:

Sacks (2) and sacks allowed (9).

Which tells you they have never had the lead this season and that they've been tied 0-0 for just 11:14 of the season's first 120 minutes.

"That plays into it and there's no secret that teams are going to pass rush more and with more people if they have the lead," said right guard Mike Goff. "But that doesn't matter. You've got to beat your man. You have to give your quarterback time to throw and we have to do a better job."

Right tackle Willie Anderson says his unit has to focus on winning their assignments and not be so concerned with things they ultimately can't control: "The only thing we can do is take it play by play and win our individual battles in there."

They will have to Sunday because the Falcons' rushers are quick and play a type of 3-4 defense that the Bengals beat late last season throwing 68 times in a 26-23 win over Pittsburgh. They won't throw that many times, but they may have started

the trend this year in which teams are airing it out against the Steelers.

The Bengals' pass rush hasn't seen a total of 68 passes this season. Try 47. With the Bengals coming off a club-record 48 sacks last year and ends Reinard Wilson (nine sacks) and Justin Smith (8.5) coming off big seasons, foes are scheming to keep them away.

I came back to the huddle after one play," said Smith of a snap against the Browns in which the Bengals' pass-rush defense was on the field, " and Reinard said to me, 'Are you getting chipped over there?' So it was happening to him, too. You just have to fight through it. One guy or two guys, it's no excuse."

In order to counter the rush for Chargers quarterback Drew Brees in his first NFL start, San Diego used quick three-step drops. That's what the Browns did with quarterback Kelly Holcomb, but they also used a lot of "maximum protection," in which they helped their tackles block Smith and Wilson by keeping in running backs or using tight ends on them after the tight ends go in motion.

"Last year, it only happened a little bit and now it's a lot, so you have to adjust," Smith said. "I'm still a young player learning. We got a few hits on the quarterback last week ,they just have to be more constant."

The Bengals have yet to unveil their bevy of blitzes because they simply haven't had many chances. Brees threw just 19 times and the Browns only had 53 plays last Sunday and chose to run it nearly half the time.

"You have to bring more guys than they have in blocking," said defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. "The sacks will come. What's just as important as sacks in our mind is getting to the quarterback, batted balls, disrupting passes."

Left outside linebacker Takeo Sikes and middle linebacker Brian Simmons, who combined for 12.5 sacks last season busting up the middle, have just one between then this year and Simmons got it chasing Brees down out of the pocket.

"When we get a couple, I think it will be a snowball effect," Spikes said. "I truly believe it. I don't know how many it would take, but we'll find them."

On the other side of the ball, the 340-pound Anderson is trying to stop the 270-pound Patrick Kerney from getting his third sack of the season after he had 12 last year. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski doesn't see the Falcons running the same type of 3-4 as the Steelers do and isn't sure he can use the same Xs and Os.

"These guys are based on speed," Bratkowski said. "Maybe they're not as aggressive as the Steelers are with the blitz, but they do play a lot of man and they are very quick. They use their speed and you have to be very careful not to let them get away from you and clog up the gaps. Our leverage and balance has to very good to stop their speed."

Richmond Webb, a 13-year veteran at left tackle, is coming off a game in which the man opposite him, backup Mark Word, had three sacks. As usual, the stand-up Webb had no excuses.

"Sure, it's easier when you've got a lead and it's harder when they know you have to pass the whole second half," Webb said. "But you have to deal with that and that's what we're trying to do. We did the job last year and we have to do it again."

Bratkowski has talked about changing up the pass protections and possibly doing his own brand of chipping. But he's also sticking with Webb. Yet he could always use Levi Jones, Webb's rookie backup, more as a tight end in a helping role on the pass. He has played about a total of 10 snaps at tight end, mostly in the run game.

The Bengals are on pace to allow 72 sacks after giving up four and five, respectively, to start the season. Last year, they allowed just one four-sack game in permitting the top 10 figure of 28 all last season, and last week was their first five-sack game in 31 weeks.

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