2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Bengals' D-line blossoms into one of best

By JOE KAY - AP Sports Writer
    2013-01-03 13:43

CINCINNATI (AP) - Michael Johnson towers over blockers at 6-foot-7. At 6-foot-1, Geno Atkins often gets dwarfed on the line. Domata Peko is gregarious. Carlos Dunlap tends to cut off interviews after a few questions.

The Bengals' defensive line is an eclectic mix of players from far different backgrounds with very different personalities and body types. Together, they formed one of the NFL's best units this season, one of the main reasons Cincinnati is in the playoffs again.

The Bengals set a club record with 51 sacks this season, 40 of them coming from a line that is more of a melting pot than anything else.

``We're very different,'' Dunlap said. ``Mike's from Selma, Ala. I'm from Charleston, S.C. Geno's from Fort Lauderdale. You've got a whole bunch of guys from miles and miles away from each other, probably a 10-hour drive to get to each destination.

``But when we're in this locker room, we're a few feet away as we are on the field and in sync with one another. I hope this young group can stay together and go on for a long time and be part of something special.''

They're having a special season, one of the main reasons the Bengals have reached the playoffs as a wild card for the second straight season. It's also one of the main reasons they think they can knock off the Texans on Saturday in Houston and get their first playoff win since 1990.

These guys know how to get to the quarterback.

Atkins led all interior NFL linemen with 12 1/2 sacks and was voted a Pro Bowl starter for the first time. Johnson had 11 1/2 sacks, giving Cincinnati its first pair of players with double-digit sacks totals since 1981, when the Bengals reached the Super Bowl for the first time.

The reserves have done well, too. Wallace Gilberry has 6 1/2 sacks. Robert Geathers has 3.

The Texans' offense struggled down the stretch, contributing to three losses in the last four games. Houston scored 16 or fewer points in those losses. If the Texans can't slow Cincinnati's front four, they're in trouble.

``They've been so good because they're very talented up front,'' Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. ``They can pressure well with the four guys or adding any number of guys to it. It's a unique challenge for us.''

It starts with four linemen who seem to have little in common except a commitment to getting to the quarterback.

Two of them arrived together. Dunlap was a second-round pick in 2010, while Atkins slipped to the fourth round because of his lack of stature. Atkins quickly developed into one of the league's best, able to use his low center of gravity to push his way into the backfield.

Dunlap was more of a project, known for wanting to do things his way. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer made him understand the need to change.

``I figured one of us was going to lose the fight and it wasn't going to be me,'' Zimmer said. ``They're much easier to mold the way you want them molded when they're young rookies. Michael was not as bad as Carlos. Carlos was a guy that had to be pushed, confronted, threatened at times, not let play at times.

``Either they figure it out or they don't figure it out, one way or the other. Both those two guys are smart guys. I do think they understand that you're trying to help them as opposed to trying to ridicule them or something like that.''

Johnson, a third-round pick in 2009, had a reputation for not playing hard the entire time. The Bengals moved him between end and linebacker earlier in this career. Once they decided to use his quickness and height at end, he began to blossom in his role.

It helps to have Dunlap on the other end, Atkins getting a push up the middle and reserves who can spell them during the game and keep them fresh.

``It's not just one guy,'' Johnson said. ``It's a collective effort of us being in our pass-rush lanes and being in the right place, and it just comes to you like that. And it comes in bunches. Let's see if we can set some sort of playoff record for sacks. (We'll) work on that next.''

Peko is the oldest member of the line, finishing his seventh season. He's also the leader - Peko organized voluntary workouts for the defense during the NFL lockout before last season.

The defense has given Cincinnati a chance to go back to Houston for the second year in a row. The Bengals lost 31-10 in the wild card round last year in Houston. Zimmer thinks his crew is better this time.

The defense has scored a touchdown in each of the last three games on fumble or interception returns. Cincinnati has held opponents to 13 points or fewer in six of the last eight games.

``Boy, that's incredible in the National Football League,'' Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.

Dunlap likes to think they're just getting started after taking a few years to come together.

``It can't be sunny days all the time,'' Dunlap said. ``After the rain is the rainbow - that's what my mom would tell you. Right now, we're on the better side of the rain and we want to keep that going and try to find that gold at the end of the rainbow.''

---

NOTES: K Josh Brown was chosen as the AFC's special teams player of the month. He was signed on Dec. 6 to replace the injured Mike Nugent and made 11 of his 12 field goal tries, the only miss on a 56-yarder in Pittsburgh. ... S Chris Crocker didn't participate in practice on Thursday. He's got a bruised thigh.

---

AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.

---

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Julius ThomasNov 27 07:52p

Denver Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle) was limited during practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Anthony DavisNov 27 07:23p

The San Francisco 49ers have declared OT Anthony Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, DL Glenn Dorsey, QB Josh X. Johnson, WR Quinton Patton, CB Tramaine Brock, TE Vance McDonald inactive for Week 13.

Arian FosterNov 27 07:12p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) was limited during practice Wednesday, Nov. 27.

Allen BradfordNov 27 07:12p

The Seattle Seahawks have declared LB Allen Bradford, TE Cooper Helfet, CB Jeremy Lane, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, C Max Unger, TE Rashaun Allen, DL Travian Robertson inactive for Week 13.

Jordan CameronNov 27 06:32p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) was limited during practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Latavius MurrayNov 27 04:52p

Oakland Raiders RB Latavius Murray (concussion) was limited during practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Larry FitzgeraldNov 27 04:02p

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) did not participate in practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Tony HillsNov 27 03:22p

The Dallas Cowboys have declared LB Dekoda Watson, OG Donald Hawkins, QB Dustin Vaughan, FS Jeff Heath, DL Joshua Brent, OT Tony Hills, CB Tyler Patmon inactive for Week 13.

Taylor HartNov 27 03:12p

The Philadelphia Eagles have declared OT Dennis Kelly, DB Jaylen Watkins, WR Jeff Maehl, OG Julian Vandervelde, QB Nick Foles, CB Rashad Carmichael, DE Taylor Hart inactive for Week 13.

Jordan ReedNov 27 03:02p

Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed (hamstring) was limited in practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Dwayne AllenNov 27 02:32p

Indianapolis Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle) did not participate in practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Kyle FullerNov 27 11:32a

Chicago Bears CB Kyle Fuller (knee) will play in the team's Week 13 game against the Detroit Lions. Fuller had been questionable during the week.

Lance BriggsNov 27 11:22a

The Chicago Bears have declared WR Chris X. Williams, LB Darryl Sharpton, OT Eben Britton, DL Jeremiah Ratliff, LB Lance Briggs, CB Terrance Mitchell, DL Trevor Scott inactive for Week Week 13.

Reggie BushNov 27 11:12a

The Detroit Lions have declared QB Kellen Moore, OG Larry Warford, DE Larry Webster, DL Nick Fairley, RB Reggie Bush, OT Riley Reiff, WR Ryan Broyles inactive for Week 13.

Reggie BushNov 27 11:12a

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle) is inactive Thursday, Nov. 27, for Week 13.

Reggie BushNov 27 10:12a

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle) is out for Week 13 Thursday, Nov. 27. His ankle isn't responding well enough, but the hope is to return for Week 14.

R. Griffin IIINov 27 09:53a

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III is highly unlikely to return to the team next season, sources within the organization said. Head coach Jay Gruden convinced owner Daniel Snyder [ More ]

Jimmy StatenNov 26 09:43p

The Seattle Seahawks signed free-agent DT Jimmy Staten (Seahawks) to their practice squad Wednesday, Nov. 26. The team also released OT Andrew McDonald from their practice squad.

Marcus ThigpenNov 26 09:03p

The Buffalo Bills claimed WR Marcus Thigpen off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wednesday, Nov. 26. The team also waived DE Bryan Johnson.

Richard GordonNov 26 09:03p

The Tennessee Titans waived TE Richard Gordon Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Larry FitzgeraldNov 26 08:33p

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Dwayne AllenNov 26 07:33p

Indianapolis Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

C. PattersonNov 26 06:23p

Minnesota Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson (knee) did not practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Jerick McKinnonNov 26 06:13p

Minnesota Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon (back) did not practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Brandon LaFellNov 26 06:03p

New England Patriots WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder) was limited during practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Jace AmaroNov 26 05:13p

New York Jets TE Jace Amaro (head) is not expected to play in Week 13, because he is going through the concussion protocol.

Reggie BushNov 26 04:53p

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle, back) was limited in practice for the third straight day Wednesday, Nov. 26, and is questionable for Week 13 against the Chicago Bears.

Jordan CameronNov 26 04:43p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) remains day-to-day, but the team is looking for him to practice symptom-free this week, according to head coach Mike Pettine.

Jordan ReedNov 26 04:13p

Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed (hamstring) was limited in practice Wednesday, Nov. 26, according to head coach Jay Gruden.

R. Griffin IIINov 26 02:53p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III needs more seasoning, and he'll likely do it from the bench for the rest of this season, according to head coach Jay Gruden. [ More ]

Arian FosterNov 26 02:33p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) has an excellent chance to return in Week 13 against the Tennessee Titans after missing the last two games.

Mark SanchezNov 26 02:23p

Philadelphia Eagles QB Mark Sanchez has thrown six interceptions this year, but all of them haven't been game-changing turnovers. In Week 12 against the Tennessee Titans, Sanchez thrived on [ More ]

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2014 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group