By Matt Vensel
The Baltimore Sun
3:10 PM EST, November 18, 2011
The Cincinnati Bengals defense barges into Sunday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium with 25 sacks, which is the eighth-highest total in the NFL. Twelve players -- including all eight defensive linemen -- have a hand in at least one sack.
Cincinnati’s talent and depth on the defensive line has not gone unnoticed by Baltimore’s big men up front, who will be tasked with building a wall around quarterback Joe Flacco on Sunday. Flacco has thrown 150 passes in the team’s past three games, making pass protection even more critical.
“Their ones are as good as their twos,” right guard Marshal Yanda said. “That’s one of the reasons they’ve been doing well, because you can bring a guy off the bench and he’s just as good.”
Starting defensive tackle Geno Atkins leads the Bengals with 4.5 sacks, and four other linemen -- three of whom are listed as reserves on the team’s depth chart -- have racked up at least three. Backup defensive end Frostee Rucker has four sacks on the season, while starting defensive end Michael Johnson and second-stringers Carlos Dunlap and Jonathan Fanene have three apiece.
CBS Sports NFL analyst Dan Dierdorf said the depth on the defensive line allows Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to rotate the players according to the situation.
“They’ve got some guys whose specialty is the run, but they’ve got some really nice edge players as well,” Dierdorf said. “To me, that’s their biggest plus, the defensive line. When you’ve got that many talented defensive line, you can camouflage some weaknesses in other areas. An extension of the front four is their front seven, but their front seven is pretty darn good. They’re quick and they’re active, and they play with an attitude, and that’s something that anybody in Baltimore can appreciate.”
The swarming pass rush from four-man fronts is one of the primary reasons the Bengals rank in the top 10 in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (217) and passing touchdowns allowed (nine).
“They’re a 4-3 [defensive front]. They’re real stout up front and those guys are physical,” Yanda said. “They have guys across the board that are making tackles. They’re a very good defense.”
Right tackle Michael Oher praised Cincinnati’s depth, too, though he insisted that conditioning wouldn’t be a concern Sunday as the Bengals shuffle eight linemen in and out of their front four.
“Those guys really get after it. They play hard, fast and long. I really liked watching them on film,” Oher said. “We just have to match their intensity -- and they can get after it.”
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