Going into last week’s game at San Diego, I figured that if the Bengals beat the Chargers, they would have a one game over Pittsburgh in the wild card race because there was no way that the Steelers would win in Baltimore without Ben Roethlisberger.
Admit it, you thought the same thing.
The Bengals were obviously hoping that would be the case.
“I saw it come up on the scoreboard during the game when Pittsburgh was down by seven and I was like, ‘It’s going to happen,’ said Carlos Dunlap. “After the game, somebody told me that Pittsburgh won and I was like, ‘What? No way.’ But hey, Pittsburgh is still Pittsburgh no matter who is the quarterback. They still have a bunch of great players around him.”
“Pittsburgh has a great defense, and anytime that you have a defense like that you’re going to be in the game,” said Leon Hall.
The question is: Do the Bengals have a defense like that?
It certainly didn’t look like it in September when the Bengals allowed an average of 28 points in their first four games but managed to win three of them thanks to an offense that averaged 33 points in the victories.
“When we were struggling early on defensively, the offense was able to pick us up and vice versa,” said Hall. “We realize that not everybody is going to play a great game every week, so if somebody is struggling on a certain side of the ball or special teams, somebody else has to pick up the slack. That’s our mentality and really what it takes to be a team.”
The defensive repaid the favor in the San Diego win by holding the Chargers to two field goals on offense and no points in the second half.
“We went in at halftime and everybody was on edge because it wasn’t how they envisioned it going,” said Zimmer. “I had to remind them that the Chargers hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown yet, so let’s just relax and do what we’re supposed to do.”
“Ideally, that’s not the type of game that we want from our offense, but we were able to hold it down,” said Carlos Dunlap.
While the Steelers rank number one in the NFL in total defense, the Bengals steadily have climbed to number eight. During the current four game winning streak, Cincinnati is allowing a mere 279.3 yards per game. To put that into perspective, there are only two teams in the NFL that are allowing fewer than 300 yards of offense per game: Pittsburgh (259.8) and San Francisco (279.6).
“We got back to doing some of the things that we’ve done in past years,” said defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. “We were trying to be fancy and stay ahead of the curve and then we basically decided that the stuff that we used to do was pretty good.”
“At the end of the year, we want to look back and say that we were in the top five or the top three – really we want to be number one,” said Dunlap. “That’s our goal as a unit.”
“Zim talks about it all the time – he doesn’t care where we started, he wants to look at the end of the season and figure out where we are,” said Rey Maualuga. “We have four more games to develop as a unit and make sure that all we do is climb and I think that we can get there.”
The Bengals have already proven that they can win a game when their offense isn’t clicking.
“The defense is playing lights out,” said fullback Chris Pressley. “As long as the offense puts a couple of things together, we feel like they’re going to hold them.”
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