Updated: 8:35 p.m.
When the Bengals came up with 11 sacks in their last two wins, the buzz around some NFL circles had their talented young defensive line poised to ascend to the top of the league.
"I think with Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson the Bengals have the best trio of pass rushers in the league; better than the Giants," CBS analyst Solomon Wilcots said last month.
Heresy for many since the Giants have what is considered the gold standard of NFL fronts and the engine of their two Super Bowl titles in the last five seasons. And since the Bengals have just seven sacks in their four-game losing streak and are now 23rd in NFL sacks per play compared to sixth for the Giants, you're not hearing much talk like that.
But the Bengals want to be the best, so the self-proclaimed "Fisher Price Package" is anxious to prove it belongs on the big playground with Giants like Jason Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora.
"They're considered one of the top D-lines, but I feel we're up there just as well as them," Dunlap said before Wednesday's practice. "We do both: We stop the run very well and we get after the quarterback when we're able to. I feel like pretty soon they'll be talking about us up there with the other D-lines in the league, maybe the Giants and the rest of them."
But he knows there are lines missing from the résumé. Especially after last Sunday's game against MVP candidate Peyton Manning, when the Bengals failed to get a sack in a game for the first time since Halloween 2010.
"Show up in big-time games, get to the big-time quarterbacks," Dunlap said of what the Bengals front has to do. "Last week we didn't do that, so we've got to do it this week."
Eli Manning is short for Elite QB Manning with the two Super Bowl MVPs and 26 fourth-quarter comebacks. He's the third in the series of Super MVPs that have faced the Bengals since Oct. 21 that began with Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. The Bengals got to Roethlisberger three times, but most everybody sacks him since Pittsburgh is in the middle of the pack when it comes to giving up sacks per pass.
"We didn't really do it against Ben either," Dunlap said. "We've just got to do it. In order for us to be it, we have to perform and do it, and we haven't done that yet."
Dunlap had one of the six sacks against the Jags back on Sept. 30, giving him 14 sacks in 20 games. After four straight games, he's looking for his next one and second of the season. After a four-game stretch that included duels with two rookie tackles and two rookie quarterbacks, Dunlap says he's not seeing all that many double teams or funky gadgets.
"There are numerous reasons you can say," he said. "Teams know we have the pass-rushing ability that we have, and they're doing a good job trying to eliminate or slow us down. And then obviously it just depends on what the situation is, whether we can pin our ears or not.
"I mean, not really," Dunlap said of double teams. "There are three guys on the D-line that have been dominant pass rushers this year, so they're not favoring that one person."
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer says there are a lot of factors.
"Everything in the NFL is cyclical. You don't play the run good, you start harping on the run. You don't play the pass good, you start harping on the pass," Zimmer said. "Everything kind of goes around with how can you improve the areas you need to improve on. Some offensive lines are way better than others. They keep more guys in in protection. They use different protections. Let's just count them up at the end and see what happens."
The Bengals have played all kinds of offensive lines in the last four games. The Dolphins are 17th protecting the passer and the Browns fourth. The Broncos are second and the Steelers are tied for 14th.
Zimmer said when the Steelers suffered injuries, they completely changed their protections against the Bengals. It looked like they kept more players into block and used more max protections, a trait the Giants have used in becoming the NFL's best team in protecting the passer.
But teams don't always max protect in a game. There are often just as many snaps in a game where it comes down to one-on-one moves to get pressure. That's where the Bengals defensive linemen appear to be focusing.
"Obviously with Peyton he does a lot of the three-step drops or a lot of the quick passes," Dunlap said. "This week, we'll have little bit more opportunities. But (Eli) does the same things, too. With the pass rush that we've been doing this year, a lot of teams are going to try to do that. We're just going to have to get to him when we can get to him and when they do drop back, we've got to get him down. And on the short, quick passes, get our hands up and try to get some tipped balls."
HUGE GAME: Off his two-interception game of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning last Sunday, Bengals cornerback Terence Newman was a popular interview in the locker room Wednesday before practice. And, oh yeah, throw in his four career interceptions of the man the Bengals play this week, little brother Eli Manning leading his Super Bowl champion Giants into Paul Brown Stadium for Sunday's 1 p.m. game.
Newman got the picks playing nine seasons for the Cowboys in several pressure-packed NFC East games that had playoff implications. Asked if the Bengals were close to being that kind of playoff team, Newman said, "I don't know. How about I tell you after the game on Sunday. I'll have a better understanding. Is that fair?"
Told it was eminently fair, he was asked if he thinks it's that big of a game.
"Huge game," he said.
WHIT WANTS SIMPLE WIN: A four-game losing skein wears on you. After being challenged last week by head coach Marvin Lewis to take more control of the team, quarterback Andy Dalton admitted Wednesday he's never lost four straight games in anything. Not even three straight, even. Not even in junior high school basketball when he was in eighth grade.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth think it's time to just win a game instead of place a blame.
"Guys have to put away things. Stop looking for someone to blame, whose fault is this or that and start worrying about winning football games," Whitworth said. "It seems like every week we're trying to say this person needs to do this or that person needs to do that. What we need to happen is we need to go win a football game. I hear Marvin (Lewis) and Jay (Gruden) and all these people try to point to people needing to go do things and we just need to win a game.
"Win a game and stop worrying about who we're trying to say needs to do something, and start worrying about the team going out and putting out a complete game together. If we're going to score, go score a touchdown. Defensively make the stop and offensively put the game away in a four-minute (drill) and it will be a won game and we don't have to worry about whose fault it wasn't."
CENTERS, NELSON OUT: Both centers, Jeff Faine and rookie Trevor Robinson, won't be full go Wednesday with their hamstring issues, but Lewis they'll be full Thursday. Faine didn't practice Wednesday while Robinson was limited. Lewis indicated the same with safety Reggie Nelson (hamtring). Wide receiver Marvin Jones (knee) continues to be out and Lewis said he'll see how Jones is at the end of the week. Also, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn't work because of an illnes. Safety Taylor Mays (knee) was listed as limited, as was Newman (hamstring).
RIVERS UPDATE:The Giants traded for Bengals former No. 1 pick Keith Rivers before the draft last year for a fifth-rounder that turned out to be Boise State safety George Iloka. Rivers started the opener at WILL backer, his spot with the Bengals, but he didn't start again until Week 7 and Week 8 before being inactive for the third time last week with a calf injury. Listed as a backup to WILL Michael Boley, he's got 20 tackles, two for a loss, and no turnovers, as well as two special teams tackles. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin almost sounded like Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in Wednesday's conference call with Cincinnati media.
"He's been on and off with injuries and unable to play on a consistent basis," Coughlin said of Rivers after Rivers missed all last season with a wrist injury. "When he has played he's played well, and he's been a good special-teamer. For the snaps he's had on defense he's done OK. I'd like to see him get on the field more and I'm sure he would to."
Like Rivers, Iloka has played in five games, but primarily on special teams, where he has two tackles. Rivers was limited in Wednesday's practice.
Starters that missed Wednesday's practice for the Giants were middle linebacker Chase Blackburn (hamstring), running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), defensive tackle Chris Canty (groin), wide receivre Hakeem Nicks (knee), and right guard Chris Snee (ankle).