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Miami rush eyes Bengals defensive woes

Tank Johnson

No rest for the wicked or the struggling.

The Bengals can't stop anyone on third down (18-for-38 in the last three games) and here come the Dolphins into Paul Brown Stadium with the AFC's two leading third-down receivers in wide receivers Davone Bess (15) and Brandon Marshall (12).

Plus, the Bengals have yet to stop anyone on 11 third-and-one snaps this season and here comes Miami battering ram Lousaka Polite, a 246-pound running back who has converted five of six third-and-ones. The Dolphins love to run the ball and here comes the tandem of running backs Ricky Williams (4.3 per carry) and Ronnie Brown (4.1) against a defense that has allowed the third-most 20-yard runs in the league with seven.

If the Bengals defense isn't ready to reclaim its physical tag it formed in the first two seasons under coordinator Mike Zimmer, Miami will.

"It's an offensive-line driven team," defensive tackle Tank Johnson said Monday. "They're going to come in and try to run the ball and we're going to have to be gap-sound and physical. We can't prepare for what they do on film. We have to prepare for what they are going to do to us. No one likes making mistakes. No one likes missing tackles. No one likes looking soft. We look soft and it's not a good look. We don't want to go out there and get pushed around the field. It's not a good look."

The mind-numbing thing is the Bengals were the exact opposite last year and they've got the same players back. During one five-game stretch last year when they shot to the top of the third-down rankings, the Bengals were 14-for-61 on third down. Last season they finished No. 1 in the league in allowing the fewest runs of 20 yards with five and had three going into the last throwaway game against the Jets. In the last two games, they've allowed a 61-yarder, 36-yarder, and 23-yarder.

Same guys.

"At times in the game we played the run extremely well, better than we have  all year," Zimmer said of Sunday. "We'd get one for zero, then hit a 36-yarder. We're giving up too many big plays. We're giving up too many easy completions. We're not contesting enough balls. A lot of things I've preached since I've walked in here, we're not doing."

Ask what the difference between last year and this year is and it is the same thing.

"Last year was last year. This is a new year," is the common answer.

Head coach Marvin Lewis tried in Monday's news conference.

"I talked to the coaches about it this morning, and I talked to the defensive players about it," Lewis said. "I pointed it out to them where things are different, and things that they did very well last year. They were ahead of the curve and were proactive on some things that went beyond us coaching every step and every move. They understood and took the initiative to get themselves in the right leverages and the right spots."

Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the missed tackles. On Sunday, Falcons running back Michael Turner turned missed hits from SAM linebacker Rey Maualuga and safety Chindeum Ndukwe into a 36-yard run and Crocker's miss into a 14-yarder, while middle linebacker Dhani Jones whiffed on a checkdown pass to Turner that turned a two-yard gain into 19 yards.

"At this point, we can't beat each other up; we know why we're here," Crocker said. "It's about being positive, about winning one game and just getting it going from there. Everybody is positive. There is not one guy that shares in the blame. I can't beat up Leon (Hall) and (Johnathan Joseph) because they could beat me up, too. We're already on an emotional roller coaster this season. Let's just stay positive and move ahead and get one victory."

Zimmer, as terse and as somber as he's ever been, vowed to fix it Monday with either new players or new schemes.

"I'm going to do whatever we have to do," Zimmer said. "Just like I'm held accountable, so should they be. If they don't play good, change them out, just like they change me out. They played hard, they didn't play good. They're supposed to play hard."

Who can he change out? Zimmer mixed up his third-down line Sunday when he put rookie Carlos Dunlap at left end in place of Robert Geathers and put Jon Fanene at tackle in his first game since the opener and there were still no sacks. Six-for-six. Six sacks in six games.

If he wants to shake up the linebackers, Zimmer could put defensive end Michael Johnson back at SAM and give Jones more rest in the middle by moving Maualuga into his spot. If he wants to look at the safeties, Roy Williams (knee) doesn't look ready after missing the last two games and the only moves there would be with Reggie Nelson or Tom Nelson.

So Zimmer doesn't have a lot options. And it's not like this starting 11 hasn't done it before.

"At the end of the day you just have to be more nasty," Tank Johnson said. "We've got to play with more of a drive to beat people up. Xs and Os don't get it on Sundays. Xs and Os don't get it."

The stunning stat isn't so much the Bengals are 0-for-11 on third-and-one, but it's how they've been gouged. There have been eight runs for 48 yards (including a 23-yarder Sunday) and three passes for 95 yards, including Sunday's play-action fake by quarterback Matt Ryan for wide receiver Roddy White's 43-yard touchdown catch.

And it is not so much the runs, but the play on the perimeter that has Lewis concerned.

"We've given up basically one play a game. When you go back and really look at it, we've given up one play," he said. "Yesterday, we gave up a run because we had an unblocked guy miss a tackle in the hole. You might have another play or two where you want to do better, but that's not the issue as much as making plays on contested balls and being tighter in coverage. Those are the things we still need to do better. Nobody's just taking the ball and running it down the field, but we've got to do it better. Unfortunately yesterday, on their two bigger runs, our unblocked defender was right where he needed to be and didn't make the tackle, and then it escalated from there."

Like Tank Johnson says, the defense has no time to dwell on it.

"At the end of the day, we're doing some good things and we're doing some bad things," he said. "We have to outweigh the good with the bad. You can be frustrated, but can't be frustrated for long."

Here come the Dolphins.

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