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Bengals "D" rated tops in NFL

CINCINNATI (AP) - For the first time in 28 years, the Cincinnati
Bengals' defense is No. 1.
The Bengals are at the top of the league's rankings this week
after giving up fewer yards than anyone else in the first four
games. They moved up after shutting down Buffalo's high-powered
offense in a 23-20 win on Sunday, one they considered the best
measure yet of how good they can be.
"I think we showed we are a legit defense," middle linebacker
Rey Maualuga said. "Now let's take it to a new level the rest of
the way."
They haven't been this legit since they still had the core of a
defense that helped them reach their first Super Bowl during the
1981 season. The defense finished ranked No. 1 in 1983, when the
offense struggled and the Bengals went 7-9.
That defense held opponents to 20 or fewer points in 11 games.
This one ranks fifth in points allowed after giving up 74 against
Cleveland, Denver, San Francisco and Buffalo.
That high ranking has a chance of staying. The Bengals (2-2)
play their next three games against the three lowest-ranked
offenses in the league - Jacksonville (No. 31), Indianapolis (No.
30) and Seattle (No. 32).
"That's our goal," defensive end Robert Geathers said. "It's
no shock that we're in this position, but it's early in the season
and we've got to keep working and not buy into all the hype."
The Bengals were counting on an improved defense to carry the
offense in the first part of the season. Cincinnati is going
through growing pains with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and
rookie receiver A.J. Green.
"It's been great," Dalton said. "Our defense has done a
really good job. That's why we've been in games. In the fourth
quarter, we've had a chance to win the game and they've made big
plays. It's great from an offensive standpoint to have a defense
like that."
The defense finished the 2009 season ranked No. 4 in the league,
a big reason why the Bengals won the AFC North and reached the
playoffs for only the second time in the past 20 years. It was
decimated by injuries last season - nine veterans hurt and the
backfield virtually wiped out.
They've been mostly healthy so far, and a few offseason changes
have worked well. Nate Clements was signed after cornerback
Johnathan Joseph left as a free agent. Maualuga was moved from
outside to middle linebacker, his more accustomed spot. Linebackers
Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson signed as free agents.
Howard has given the defense more versatility with his ability
to drop into pass coverage. During the win over Buffalo, he covered
running back Fred Jackson.
"I've never been around a finer athlete at linebacker than what
he is," coach Marvin Lewis said. "He is a good football player
and he is learning to fit in the spots. It is fun to watch him."
The biggest improvement has been on the line, where the Bengals
invested a lot of draft picks in recent years. Second-year end
Carlos Dunlap and second-year tackle Geno Atkins have excelled in
an eight-man rotation, a sign of the line's depth.
"Everybody can get out there and do the job," Geathers said.
"Usually they only keep seven (active), so I guess it speaks
volumes that Marvin's been putting eight of us up. I guess all
eight of us deserve to be out there on the field."
The Bengals have 10 sacks, tied for 12th in the league, but have
gotten consistent pressure on quarterbacks, forcing them to get rid
of the ball quickly.
"On defense, it all starts up front," Howard said. "They're
the backbone of our defense. When they play like that, we're pretty
good."
NOTES: S Chris Crocker (knee) and nickel CB Kelly Jennings
(hamstring) didn't practice on Wednesday. S Taylor Mays missed part
of practice because of illness. ... The Bengals haven't heard
anything from the league about RB Cedric Benson's pending
suspension. He appealed a three-game penalty last week. There's no
timetable for a decision by the league. ... Cincinnati has lost its
last seven games in Jacksonville.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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