Updated: 10 p.m.
Louis Breeden, the Leon Hall of the last Bengals defense to be ranked No. 1 in the NFL, had one of the best seats in the house Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium when the current edition scaled the heights last reached by his 1983 unit when the Bengals pulled the plug on the high-octane Bills offense in a 23-20 victory.
"I love the way they play defense. It's the best they've had in a long time. You can tell by the way they run around," Breeden said Monday while he reflected on that unit he played opposite Ken Riley on the corner. "They're very athletic and really helped by that rotation they've got up front."
Dave Lapham, the long-time Bengals radio analyst who was a guard on that '83 team that finished 7-9, sees some similarities with this club that leads the league allowing just 275.5 yards per game out of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's 4-3. Even though their fathers played one of the NFL's first 3-4 defenses under Hank Bullough 28 years ago.
Lapham starts at corner, where the '83 team had the franchise's top all-time interception leaders in Riley's 65 and Breeden's 33.
"Both defenses rely a lot on their corners to cover man-to-man so can they do a lot of different things in the box," Lapham said. "They've got the veteran with a lot of experience in Kenny and Clements. And they've got the guy coming into his prime in Louis and Leon Hall. Those guys could cover. If Kenny or Louis played in a defense like the one with the Bears, they would have made the Pro Bowl every year."
Breeden, 57, a Cincinnati businessman, watched the game with two '83 teammates, running back Archie and cornerback Ray Griffin, and isn't surprised by how the defense is evolving.
"They seem to have a lot of interchangeable parts that can do a lot," Breeden said. "I like their corners. I don't know much about (Nate) Clements, but I've watched Leon since he's been here and I just think he's very solid and he's already an upper echelon player. How many times do you see Leon Hall get beat? Not very often. And he'll come up and hit you."
He could have been talking about himself. In '83, Breeden was in his seventh season (Hall is in his fifth), and while he never made a Pro Bowl, Hall hasn't either even though both are and were highly-regarded.
The biggest difference, Breeden sees, is that on passing downs he was assigned to what the Bengals considered the biggest threat no matter where he lined up.
"I wasn't as big or as strong as Leon," Breeden said, "but when I came out they liked the way I came up on the run."
Yet Breeden believes it is the depth of this defensive line that makes the group special.
"They've really got quite a group there where all eight guys contribute and there's no dropoff," he said. "They've got guys that can play both tackle and end like (Jon) Fanene. I watched Frostee Rucker get in there a few times at end and he pushed his guy into the quarterback a couple of times. He didn't get a sack, but he was disruptive.
"I think it's helped them early in the year because of the heat and I know it had to help them in Denver. That fourth quarter stuff wasn't all John Elway. The air had something to do with it and that was an advantage for Denver."
Lapham says the arrival of Bullough, the 3-4 pioneer from Chuck Fairbanks's Patriots that new head coach Forrest Gregg brought along in 1980, allowed players that were already here to excel. Two excellent inside linebackers in Jim LeClair and Glenn Cameron were naturals in the scheme, and tackle Eddie Edwards moved to end, where he racked up enough sacks to become the team's all-time leader. In '83 he had 13, the most next to Coy Bacon's 22 in club history.
"Eddie was the bell cow on that line," Lapham said. "He was the guy that offenses had to find and would have to scheme. These guys don't really have that guy, but I think it's almost better to have eight above average guys, and I think that's what they've got. You look at the roster, the defensive line is the strongest position on the team."
Lapham says the closest lineman to a bell cow now is second-year man Carlos Dunlap, still seeking his first sack at left end after ripping off 9.5 last season in the final eight games.
"He's getting close," Lapham said. "He's the one guy I think you have to get blocked. But a guy like (right end) Michael Johnson is coming on."
The '83 season ended up being Riley's 15th and last and he went out in style with an AFC-best eight interceptions. Clements, in his 11th season, is working on the first of a two-year deal and looks to have at least that left.
"He's the kind of guy you just take for granted," Lapham said of the man that replaced Johnathan Joseph. "He doesn't have the 'wow' factor of Johnathan, but he's very solid in pretty much everything."
Breeden is enjoying the show. He'll be back for the Colts on Oct. 16.
"I don't think they're going to be scoring a lot of points. They're so young on offense," Breeden said. "The defense is going to have to play well and they have in every game. They're fun to watch."
*SLANTS AND SCREENS *
» As expected, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is downplaying his unit's No. 1 rating and on Monday his players were greeted with a couple of mousetraps complete with cheese on the tables in the defensive meeting room, according to middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.
"Don't bite on the cheese. Don't feed off what everyone is talking about," Maualuga said of Zimmer's message.
Zimmer says it's too early to discuss rankings and how good this defense is.
"Ask me at Thanksgiving," Zimmer said.
» Right guard Bobbie Williams returned from his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance enhancer policy and is working on a roster exemption. But head coach Marvin Lewis said he could still play Sunday in Jacksonville. If the Bengals activate him, they'll have to cut someone to make room.
With veteran Mike McGlynn getting the bulk of the snaps Sunday against the Bills, rookie right guard Clint Boling was in on only about six plays after McGlynn got his first start of the year.
» Lewis calls outside linebacker Thomas Howard as athletic as any of the great linebackers he's had down through the years in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and here. He's not saying he's as good, but he says he's got a big upside.
» Running back Cedric Benson said he's looking forward to Williams' return to the running game. Benson admitted that Sunday's 104-yard effort on 19 carries was his most unique 100-yard game. He ran the ball just once for minus-two yards before running back Bernard Scott came into the game, and he had just 17 yards at the half.
» Benson also admitted he didn't want to talk after Sunday's game because of the frustration of a close game.
"I felt like we could have put that team away earlier in the game," Benson said. "We leave a lot of plays out there at times and allow our opponent to stay in the game. ... Until we figure that's (not) what we need to do, we'll have a lot of close games."
» Benson said he hasn't heard about the appeal of his suspension. Lewis says if the club hears nothing by Tuesday, he assumes Benson is playing.