BENGALS NT DOMATA PEKO VS. BILLS C ERIC WOOD
Even the coaches are looking forward to this one.
Sunday's matchup at Ralph Wilson Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) pits one of the Bengals' classic pros in head coach Marvin Lewis's locker room vs. the vintage Cincinnati high school product who played for a state champion at venerable Elder High School.
It is the run-stuffer who along with Robert Geathers formed the brotherhood and framework of what may be the best defensive line in the game in Cincinnati vs. the engine of the AFC's top rushing attack in Buffalo.
It is the 6-3, 322-pound Peko, the de facto captain of the Bengals defense, vs. the 6-4, 310-pound Wood, a first-year captain with the "C" sealed on his jersey.
"He's a great player. He's probably their best offensive lineman. That's what our coaches are telling us," Peko says. "He's a Cincinnati product. He went to Elder and Louisville. I know what to expect. He's tough."
Wood: "I have a lot of respect for him. After games we've talked and I've told him I respect his game. He's very active in the run game. He uses his hands extremely well. He's a very experienced guy. A real emotional guy. He gets into the game." If the Bills are going to get that running attack of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller that is now ranked third in the NFL off the ground, Wood has to get to the second level to prevent Bengals linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga from padding their tackling stats. If the Bengals are to make the Bills one-dimensional and put the game in the hands of the untried, unknown and unlikely Bills quarterback Thad Lewis, Peko has to stop Wood from getting there.
Both are having nice seasons.
Peko is supposed to keep the linebackers free and according to NFL.com, Burfict-Maualuga is one of only two pairs of linebackers in the top 19 for tackles. Burfict is second and Maualuga tied for 19th while Detroit's DeAndre Levy-Stephen Tulloch is tied for 12th and 16th, respectively.
Meanwhile, with 1.5, Peko is one of 10 AFC tackles with more than a sack on a defense ranked eighth overall after Sunday's conquest of Tom Brady, the third Super Bowl-winning quarterback the Bengals have knocked off in 20 days.
"He's playing like he always plays; really good," defensive line coach Jay Hayes says of Peko's eighth season. "He's the backbone of our defense and he's not only playing the run well, he's got some sacks, too. The thing with Domata is he knows formations, what people are doing, how they're attacking us, how they're running against us. He's a great student of the game. He takes great notes."
Many are saying the same kind of stuff in Buffalo, where Wood is finally healthy and just got a nice contract in his fifth season. He has helped E.J. Manuel become the first rookie quarterback to lead his team to at least 20 points in each of the first five games.
"I don't know (Wood), but I know I have to bring my A game. He's quick for a center and he's one of the biggest centers," Peko says. "What really makes him good is his consistency. He's a physical guy that quickly gets to the second level. I have to make sure I stay on his butt so he doesn't get up to the linebackers and knock him back."
Peko says pretty much all the Bengals are going to see is zone blocking as the Bills try to figure out how to use a pocket passer in Manuel's zone-read scheme.
"It's all flat zone blocking. I've got to stay on this Wood dude," Peko says. "I can't get cut. A lot of times against this offense, guys that are playing nose, they let the center up and the backside guard cuts them. It creates a big gash. If I can stay on my feet, then we should have a good day."
That is one of the best things he does, according to Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst.
"You never see him on the ground. That guy has got as much balance as I've seen. He's a hard guy to get off of his pins. And that's 99 percent the battle. You can't make a play lying on your back," Lapham says.
Wood has had two shots at Peko, both at Paul Brown Stadium, a win in 2010 and a loss in 2011.
"He's strong at the point of attack. You really have got to use your hands well with him because he's got long arms for a nose tackle and (that means) pretty good shedability," Wood says. "A guy that stout, you think you generally want to lean on him a little to try and get a little more force. But as soon as you lean, he can use his hands so well, you've got to be really careful doing that."
Peko thinks he's having one of his better seasons and Hayes and Lapham, both former pro players, agree.
"I wouldn't disagree," Lapham says. "He's holding the point. He does a great job keeping people off the backers. He consumes people at the line. And he's sneaky as a pass rusher. Guys kind of forget that he can push the pocket. His job isn't to accumulate 10 sacks; it's about pushing the pocket and letting other people finish off the sacks."
Lapham calls Peko-Wood a lunch-bucket-blue-collar special. Bring an extra sandwich, he says.
"The game kind of slows down for you as you get a little older," Peko says. "I'm just trying to watch my keys and do what Coach Zimmer wants me to do. Attack the line of scrimmage, stay on the center. There's not too much glory in a big noseguard. I'm just keeping my head down and trying to keep those linebackers free."