Updated: 6:20 p.m.
The red-hot Bengals defense gets the white-hot Cowboys offense Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) when the Bengals try to extend their winning streak to five games to match their longest skein under head coach Marvin Lewis.
While the Bengals have allowed just two touchdowns in the last four games, the Cowboys have averaged 32.5 points in that stretch and are watching wide receiver Dez Bryant blossom before their very eyes. In his last five games Bryant has averaged 17.2 yards per his 34 catches while putting together back-to-back 145-yard games.
As prolific as Bryant and quarterback Tony Romo (10 TDs, 2 picks, 96.8 passer rating) have been in the last five weeks, the Bengals cornerbacks have been blanketing the top wide receivers during the winning streak. Victor Cruz caught just three balls, Dwayne Bowe and Darrius Heyward-Bey caught none, and last week San Diego's Danario Alexander became the first 100-yard receiver the Bengals allowed with 102.
But cornerback Leon Hall says the Bengals are facing as much talent Sunday as they'll see all year.
"There's a whole lot of talent. If you look at the roster, they're as talented as any team in the league," Hall said. "It's probably the most talented group offensively we've faced all season, from Dez to (wide receiver) Miles Austin, the tight end (Jason Witten) all the way to the quarterback and the two running backs they have."
DeMarco Murray is one of those backs and he's healthy now, but the real weapon has been the 6-2, 218-pound Bryant. In his last five games Bryant has averaged 17.2 yards per his 34 catches and during that stretch he had back-to-back career-best 145-yard games.
"He's one of these big, strong physical receivers that can go up and get the ball," Hall said. "He's a real threat and you have to make sure you get him down because he's good after the catch, too. You've got to be physical with him, but you can't get away from your technique or get out of what the defense is doing."
Profootballfocus.com rates Bryant 11th-best in yards after catch and it's going to be interesting to see how the Bengals play it. Hall pretty much shadowed Cruz, but he's the club's slot corner and Cruz went into the slot a lot. Bryant pretty much stays in one spot on the outside, the X, so we'll see if the Bengals stick with Hall in the slot while cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones stay with Bryant on the outside.
"It depends on what they're trying do us offensively," Hall said.
RETURN OF RETURN: Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons knows Adam Jones would love to bust a punt return against his old buddies from Dallas. And the way Jones has had it going lately as he's ran to third in the NFL rankings, Simmons would love to have him handle every punt.
The problem is, Jones is playing some big-time third cornerback, which means he may have just forced the punt by running downfield on a long ball, or made a drive-stopping tackle. That's when Simmons goes to Brandon Tate.
"I'm watching him. You don't think he wants to be back there? He wants to be back there every play," Simmons said. "Every play. He wants to be back there every play, every week. But he knows when it's best for him to be back there and when it's best that he's not. I'll look at him and he'll already know what I'm going to say. If you just covered a deep ball, here comes Tate.
"I want the guy to be fresh. Because he's explosive when he's fresh."
Joens and Tate have split it nearly in half with Jones averaging 15.3 yards on 18 returns and Tate 8.9 on 19. Jones was at it again last Sunday, still finishing with a 19.5-yard average on the day even though his longest got wiped out by penalty. Jones and Simmons have formed quite a mutual admiration society. Jones says he hasn't had a better special teams coach than Simmons.
"He's been a pleasure. He's been good. He's been very into it," Simmons said of Jones. "He is competitive. He reminds me a lot of Steve Smith. When I was at Carolina, Steve Smith's the most competitive SOB I've ever been around my entire life. That's what makes that guy good. He's got little man's disease. Same as this guy does. Steve's tough. Steve will fight you. He may claw and scratch and run the other way, but (Jones) reminds me of that because he's so ultra-competitive. They play with a chip on their shoulder. Or two chips on their shoulder I guess.
"The guy was the sixth pick in the draft for a reason. He's got supreme talent. It's just a matter of getting all of that talent funneled and channeled in one direction. All they want to do is succeed, and that guy wants to succeed more than a lot. He knows where he's been. He knows he's on his last straw. And he wants to do well. Regardless of what's happened, what he's done, where he's been in the past, he wants to do well. And I think he wants to right the ship. I think he wants to get it right this time, because he knows there isn't a next time for him."
DOUBLE-DIGIT SACKERS:Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is a half-sack away from double digts heading into Sunday's game against the Cowboys (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) and he'll be the first Bengal to reach that mark since left end Robert Geathers had 10.5 in 2006 and just the second since outside linebacker Alfred Williams's 10 in 1992.
It's not a milestone taken lightly on the defensive line, sine Geathers has become a mentor and role model for the young sack leaders, the 24-year-old Atkins and the 25-year right end Michael Johnson. And Atkins thinks some of his other teammates can, starting with Johnson. With four games left, he won't count out the guys guys that have just four sacks, left Carlos Dunlap and right end Wallace Gilberry.
"Michael Johnson and I have a good chance of getting there," Atkins said before Friday's practice. "Even Carlos Dunlap if he gets two, three sacks a game. Even Wallace Gilberry. Who knows? The way we've been rushing as a unit I think we have a good chance to have a couple of guys."
Atkins and Johnson would be the first Bengals to each have double-digit sacks on the same club since left end Eddie Edwards (10) and outside linebacker Reggie Williams (11) led the 1981 AFC champs. Of course, the only Bengals who were alive at the start of that season were defensive backs Terence Newman and Chris Crocker. The guy they're shooting for is Geathers.
"That would mean a lot," Atkins said.
INJURY REPORT: Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green wasn't at practice Friday with an illness and is listed as probable. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion) is out after not practicing all week. Running back Cedric Peerman (ankle) and kicker Mike Nugent (calf) haven't been out there all week and are doubtful. Tight end Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) went limited Friday after not going Thursday and is probable. Center Kyle Cook is questionable after going full all three days. He hasn't been activated yet from injured reserve-recall, but it's expected some time before the game.
HALL CALL: The Pro Football Hall of Fame is celebrating its 50th anniversary around the NFL this weekend and the club's only member that spent his entire career with the Bengals, left tackle Anthony Muñoz, is set to be honored at the end of the first quarter Sunday with his introduction and a video tribute.
WEATHER CHECK: The National Weather Service in Wilmington is calling for an 80 percent chance of steady rain Sunday and a high of 58 degrees with a wind out of the east at about 10 miles per hour.