Bengals defense shredded in first 2 games

Published 2:03 am Thursday, September 20, 2012

CINCINNATI (AP) — Defensive lineman Domata Peko doesn’t like what he’s seeing.

A defense that took the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs last season has become a weight pulling them down. They’ve been shredded by Joe Flacco and rookie Brandon Weeden — not to mention their running backs — during one of their worst two-game stretches in years.

The Bengals (1-1) are ranked 30th on defense heading into their game Sunday at Washington (1-1), and it’s a deserved place.

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“I know that we are a better defense than we’ve been showing,” Peko said on Wednesday. “I think we’ve just got to settle down. It seems like everybody’s eyes have been too wide open, like a deer in the headlights.”

The numbers are eye-opening.

A defense that allowed opponents to gain 400 yards only twice last season, including the playoffs, has given up 400 in each of the first two games. The Bengals have allowed 71 points — fourth-most in the NFL — and an astounding 8.36 yards on first down, by far the worst in the league.

There’s more.

During a 44-13 loss in Baltimore and a 34-27 win over Cleveland, the defense gave up 37 plays of at least 10 yards. They gave up 430 yards and 439 yards in the first two games — more than in any game last season, when the defense finished No. 7 overall.

Last season, Cincinnati allowed only one team — Seattle — to throw for 300 yards. The Ravens and Browns both topped that mark. Baltimore and Cleveland each rushed for more than 100 yards as well.

The puzzling part is that it’s essentially the same defense.

“It’s just doing our jobs, being where we need to do all the time, being consistent,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’re pressing a little bit, and it showed.”

There have been changes already. Taylor Mays started the opener at strong safety, but was benched after struggling. He was replaced by Jeromy Miles, who made his first career start against Cleveland.

Cleveland took advantage of the middle of the field, with Weeden throwing for 322 yards, the most ever by a Browns rookie. Trent Richardson ran for 109 yards and scored on a 32-yard run and a 23-yard catch, the first Browns rookie running back to score both ways in a game.

“We got the win, but we weren’t happy,” cornerback Leon Hall said. “Getting the first of the year is big but like anything else, you want to play well individually and as a defense. Obviously you are happy but at the same time you realize things aren’t as good as they seem coming off a win and that you’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The defense suffered a huge setback when outside linebacker Thomas Howard tore up a knee during practice three days before the Cleveland game, ending his season. Howard was Cincinnati’s leading tackler last season.

The rest of the linebackers struggled against the Browns, who completed a lot of quick passes to the middle of the field. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga had a tough time keeping up.

“He needs to play better,” linebackers coach Paul Guenther said. “He knows that, we know that. He’s had some good plays and some that he needs to play better on. I know a lot of people criticize him, but he knows he needs to play better and he will play better.”

The Ravens and Browns used extra blockers to protect their quarterbacks, limiting the Bengals to a total of five sacks. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who sprained his right knee during the preseason opener, is fully practicing this week and could return against the Redskins. Dunlap is the Bengals’ top pass rusher.

“We’ve got some guys that have been nicked up,” Peko said. “Thank God it’s the first two games of the season, not in Week 14. That’s what the early games are for, to clean stuff up. Once we get that chemistry going again, we’ll be fine.”


NOTES: Dunlap and RB Bernard Scott (hand) fully participated in practice on Wednesday, an indication they’re close to returning from their preseason injuries. Hall was limited by a sore calf, but jogged briskly off the field after practice ended. … CB Adam “Pacman” Jones was honored as the AFC’s special teams player of the week for his 81-yard punt return for a touchdown against Cleveland. It was his first punt return for a TD since 2006.


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