BENGALS LE CARLOS DUNLAP VS. TITANS RT DAVID STEWART; BENGALS RE MICHAEL JOHNSON VS. TITANS LT MICHAEL ROOS
Last week Dunlap admitted when the Bengals saw that Seattle was next-to-last in the NFL in allowing sacks per pass, the mouth watered.
But there is no water works this week since Tennessee is fourth and its tackles are two supreme pass blockers that haven't allowed a sack this season. With Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson in a mysterious economic slump and the Titans ranked last in rushing, the only way Tennessee has moved the ball is through quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's quick passes and decisions.
His tackles are granite blocks. The 6-7, 320-pound Roos, a second-rounder out of Eastern Washington in 2005, has the NFL's second-longest starting streak among tackles with 103 while the 6-7, 315-pound Stewart has missed just one start since he came out of Mississippi State in the fourth round in 2006.
Two years ago they were the anchor of a line that became the first since the 1970 merger to average more than five yards per rush and allow just 15 sacks in a season.
Tennessee's pass protection is a major reason the 36-year-old Hasselbeck is having a revival with five games of a 93.1 passer rating or better. The four-man Bengals pressures are why defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer hasn't been forced to blitz, allowing dogged fundamentals that have yielded the NFL's fifth-best defense, second against the run and 10th in third-down conversions, where Hasselbeck has the Titans offense in the upper half of the league.
The 6-6, 290-pound Dunlap, who got his first sack in Seattle, has 19 quarterback pressures in dwarfing Mike Johnson's runnerup total of six. The 6-7, 267-pound Johnson went into the Seattle game the leader on the line of snaps played with about 70 percent and is the first Bengals defender to get a stat in all defensive categories.
Dave Lapham, the former decade Bengals offensive lineman and long-time radio analyst, breaks down this matchup in the trenches for Sunday's game (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Tennessee:
"As far as a tandem, Roos and Stewart are as good as it gets. Maybe the best in the league. Not so much individually, but collectively. It will be interesting if Dunlap and Mike can make some hay with these guys.
"Honestly, Dunlap is getting as consistent a pass rush as anybody in the league. It's not showing up in sacks, but he's been disruptive as hell, and he's had some missed opportunities. He definitely catches the eye out there as a guy you have to make sure you block.
"Stewart is the mauler of the two. He's pretty physical and like Roos is a good technician. Dunlap beat James Carpenter like a drum last week. I can't believe that Seattle didn't give him any help when it became so obvious he couldn't block him one-on-one.
"The Titans don't help their two guys, so it will be interesting to see what they do if they have trouble with Dunlap and Johnson. You can't double-team two guys. They've put Geno Atkins and Frostee Rucker at tackles in the nickel and they've really been getting after it.
"It was a case last Sunday where the Bengals just kept Dunlap in there and he ended up playing about 50-60 of the 80 or so snaps.
"Michael Johnson is more of a skill guy than a bull rusher, but the best part of their game is that both of them can bull rush and mix that up with their athleticism.
"Mike played well against some top left tackles at the beginning of the year. Joe Thomas in Cleveland and Ryan Clady in Denver. He's been productive and playing a lot of snaps and they've been using him some as a linebacker. Russell Okung, who was the sixth pick in the draft a year ago, is a good player and did a good job on him in Seattle.
"Roos has made the Pro Bowl and he's a pretty good player. I'm not going to call him a finesse player. But he's an athletic guy that moves pretty well.
"Hasselbeck is doing a lot of things that Andy Dalton is doing. Three- and five-step drops. Working out of the shotgun and getting rid of the ball quickly. If you can't get the sack, you can still disrupt. Both Dunlap and Michael Johnson have those huge wingspans that they have to use to get some hands on the ball.
"It reminds me of up in Cleveland when they played Joe Thomas. Who is going to be the best left tackle on this day? Joe Thomas or Whit (Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth)? I think that's what it's going to be like. Who is the best left tackle on Sunday?
Whit or Roos?"