While Tez waits, the rush is on

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Joe Mixon (right) and Jeremy Hill both had carries in the Bengals' lone TD drive.

LANDOVER, Md. - While Vontaze Burfict crosses his fingers for Tuesday's appeal, we'll always have Paris.

Paris will be always be Sunday's four snaps on Washington's first five third downs, when defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's nickel package looked a million bucks. Never mind the Bengals lost the third pre-season game to Senator Jay Gruden and Washington colleagues, 23-17.

There was this:

Two sacks sandwiched by an intentional grounding call on beleaguered Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. One by the red-hot everyman named Chris Smith, the third of his truly unbelievable preseason.  Another by fourth-rounder Carl Lawson, or "Gumby," as estimable Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham will call him for the next decade, for his first NFL sack against Pro Bowler Trent Williams.

Then there came Burfict's 62-yard pick-six on third-and-five that he ended trying to wedge himself into an end zone seat and then settling for surveying the scene while sitting on the railing as the Bengals took a 14-3 lead in a torrid 18 minutes of third down for both the offense and defense.

He was looking at Paris.

"They come off the edge, they don't even think about it," Burfict raved of his trio of young pass rushers. "Just go after it. They're young, hungry, and fast. Jordan (Willis) is going to be somebody to reckon with. He comes off the edge fast. And Carl. Carl's pretty good. We just got to get him to stop thinking and just go get the quarterback. You know how it is as a rookie. You get wrapped up in the defense trying to do everything right. Just go."

By the time Lawson backed up his tackle into backup quarterback Colt McCoy in the third quarter on third-rounder Jordan Willis' third sack of the preseason, Burfict had passed concussion protocol and was on the sidelines. He had been watching starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick play for the first time this preseason and second-year SAM backer Nick Vigil getting better next to him and those young pass rushers wreaking havoc and he was smiling.

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John Ross had his first NFL touch Sunday.

But it also had to be killing him inside because he had known since Wednesday night when the NFL sent him the letter that told they were suspending him for the first five games of the season for what it feels is a hit on a defenseless receiver in the Aug. 19 game against Kansas City.

"As a defense we played lights out," Burfict said. "We had some guys return that weren't here last week and the week before like Dre. There's just a different energy once we get all our full pieces out there. We're going to be a great defense because Coach G does a great job on film study and we know what teams are running before they line up.

"It kind of puts a mark on where we're at as a defense. Last year I think we started off pretty slow in some games and teams were scoring on that first drive and we just wanted to come out and get a three-and-out and hit them in the mouth and obviously when you hit them in the mouth they feel like they don't want to play anymore."

That seems to be the debate. The NFL thinks Burfict hit Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman in the mouth. Burfict and the Bengals think he hit him in the proper target area. But Chris Smith went right on target after Sunday's game when he talked about what Burfict means to this defense.

"That's our captain, our leader, our heartbeat of this team," Smith said. "That was a hell of a play."

As the Bengals landed back in Cincinnati, the metaphor couldn't have been more striking as Smith and Lawson, among others, helped Burfict out of the stands as he celebrated his touchdown. While he's watching, the pass rush is going to have to pick him and the defense up.

"Coach can just close his eyes and pick anybody on the D-line and we're going to rush," Smith said.

Smith, the four-year vet who played just 19 games for Jacksonville before the Bengals got him a trade this spring, is fitting right in with the kids. But he likes the old guys, too. Guenther unveiled his versatility on the first nickel look of the day when he shoved the 6-4, 260-pound Smith inside next to Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins and plucked savvy 10-year man Wallace Gilberry off the bench and put him next to Smith at end.

Gilberry had played just seven snaps this preseason, but he showed why experience matters. He worked a stunt with Smith and Smith got the sack.

"It's something we were working this week with Paulie, rushing inside. We practiced it this whole week," Smith said. "It gave me a little confidence to get that first sack on the first play in that package … I like to play besides Wallace and Geno. Those guys really get it. They've been doing it a long time. Geno (eight) years and Gil 10 years."

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Andy Dalton directed a first drive where six players touched the ball.

They just may have that right mix of age and speed in beefing up their pass rush. Remember when that was the second biggest off-season concern? Smith has been around long enough that he pulled aside Lawson this week before their big matchup with Washington Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams and when the dust cleared Lawson not only had the sack against him but drew a huge holding call on Williams late in the first half.

"It speaks volumes," Smith said of what Lawson did to Williams. "That's the thing I told him before the game. Just be you. I know he's a great tackle and he's been to a lot of Pro Bowls. But just be you. You've got to do what got you here and that's what he did today."

Smith was still shaking his head after the game on Lawson's trademark dip where his shoulder seemingly touches the turf as he turns the corner on the rush. The one that got the hold on Williams that turned a first-and-10 from the Bengals 22 into a first-and-20 from the 32 and a field goal instead of a touchdown.

"I don't pay attention to holding. I just go," said Lawson, who agrees with Burfict. "When I start thinking about it, I'm not as good a player."

He's been going ever since he arrived in the draft. Lawson was un-blockable during the spring and then he hijacked training camp. If Joe Mixon was the star of the offense, Lawson was the man on defense. Until Lawson hurt his A/C joint early in the pre-season opener and they put him under wraps. He still practiced but he missed last week's game. Both Lawson and the Bengals know it was injuries that prevented him from dominating at Auburn and going in the first round.

After the game he sported a bandage on his shoulder and his simple mantra.

"Two things," Lawson said. "I make sure my body is healthy and make sure I go 100 miles an hour all the time."

But now the question is, how fast can this defense play without Burfict?

And when will we next have Paris?

 

Cincinnati Bengals take on the Washington Redskins in week 3 of the preseason.

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