Bengals defensive line back to getting sacks and dancing

Joe Kay

AP Sports Writer

CINCINNATI — Domata Peko leveled Kansas City’s Alex Smith, popped up to his feet and started dancing. The tackle rubbed both hands across his belly while gyrating his wide hips.

He hadn’t done that one before.

“The belly dance?” Peko said. “I’m hungry. Just a big man moving around.”

Peko got to do an encore during the Cincinnati Bengals’ 36-21 win on Sunday, finishing with two of their five sacks. It was big stuff in a lot of ways for the Bengals (4-0), who are one of the NFL’s six unbeaten teams.

Heading into the season, they knew that was one of the main areas they had to improve.

Their defense slipped to middle-of-the-pack last season because the line couldn’t get much pressure on the quarterback. Tackle Geno Atkins wasn’t fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery. End Michael Johnson left for Tampa as a free agent.

Although end Carlos Dunlap had a breakout season with eight sacks, the Bengals finished with only 20 overall, the fewest in the league.

Through four games, the Bengals already have 11 sacks, tied with Baltimore for sixth in the league. Denver leads with 18.

“It feels we’re back to the years when we were rushing ferociously as a defensive line,” Dunlap said on Monday. “We don’t have to rely on one sack guy. We’re spreading the wealth across the whole line.”

Johnson rejoined the Bengals after the Buccaneers released him. He missed most of training camp with a sprained knee, and got his first sack on Sunday. Dunlap leads the team with 3½. Atkins is fully recovered from the knee surgery and has three sacks, getting a push up the middle that throws off opponents’ passing games.

“It’s like night and day,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said of Atkins’ performance this season. “To his credit, he came back in great shape. He’s playing his butt off, he’s into it.”

The line knew it was under scrutiny after its sad-sack performance last season. Four games into the season, the Bengals are back to pressuring the quarterback with only a four-man rush.

“That’s one of the things we wanted to improve on as a team,” Peko said. “We wanted the defensive line to lead our team.”

The defense still has a ways to go. It gave up 461 yards on Sunday, but limited the Chiefs to seven field goals. The defense ranks 19th in yards allowed this season, but is tied for 10th in points allowed.

The Bengals have trailed for less than 2 minutes in their four games combined because their offense and defense have been so good at the start of games. The defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the first half, helping the Bengals outscore opponents 66-18.

On Sunday, the Chiefs couldn’t get into the end zone even though they had a first-and-goal at the 10-yard line. That meant more to Guenther than the yards allowed.

“Anytime they don’t score a touchdown, you’re happy,” Guenther said. “That’s hard to do in the NFL.”

Notes: The team announced on Monday that its game against the Seahawks next Sunday has sold out. The Bengals’ early success hadn’t filled Paul Brown Stadium, which seats 65,515. The Bengals sold 57,579 tickets for their first game against San Diego, and 57,498 for the Chiefs game. … Last season, they didn’t draw a crowd of 65,000 until the final three games against Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Denver. … The teams with more sacks than Cincinnati: Denver (18), Green Bay and St. Louis (17), Pittsburgh (14) and New England (13).

Joe Kay

AP Sports Writer