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Solid Bengal defensive line is underachieving

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By Conrad Clowers

Herald Contributor

Bengals’ defensive lineman Geno Atkins is contained by Browns players in Sunday’s loss to Cleveland at Paul Brown Stadium. Photo by Michael Mitchell

Former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell fired Bengal founder and legend Paul Brown as the Browns head coach in 1963. In a nutshell, here is what followed. Brown says, in paraphrasing, “Okay. I don’t need you. I’ll go to another part of the state, start my own team, and whip your tail when my team plays your team.’’ It took him five years to get approved for a new team, investors, and a place to play. He did it though. His revenge started in 1968, when the Bengals first entered the NFL.

Both Art Modell and Paul Brown have both gone on to their next lives. For current Bengal owner Mike Brown and son of the late great Paul Brown, his rivalry with the Cleveland Browns is bitter sweet. The good news for Brown is that the Bengals have won 50 of the 90 games the two teams have played in their history. The bad news is the Bengals became the first team in the NFL to lose to Cleveland at their own home in four long years. This past weekend, the Bengals were humiliated by their in-state foe, 35-20.

Coming into the 2018 season the Bengal defensive line was thought to be the heart and soul of the team. No other group was thought to be as dominant as the Bengal defensive line. For the first five games of the season, Geno Atkins, Andrew Billings, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap did their best impression of the steel curtain.

On Oct. 14, something changed. Pittsburg came in to Cincinnati and defeated the Bengals in the last minute. Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was barely touched by any Bengal defensive lineman the entire game. The five games that have followed (ending in four losses) all ended with quarterbacks Pat Mahomes, Drew Brees, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield seldom pressured and having their way.

Atkins and Dunlap are Pro Bowl players and were given huge new contracts at the beginning of the season. Atkins has been one of the five best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Dunlap has been a wrecking machine on the defensive end that has been amongst the league leaders in passes knocked down. Neither has been heard from much in the past month or so.

Atkins’ fellow interior lineman Andrew Billings is one of the strongest men in the NFL. He is in his first year as a fulltime starter. Billings was injured his entire rookie year in 2016 and finally got game action, starting in seven games last season. The former Baylor star has also done a disappearing act. Defensive end Michael Johnson is in his ninth season with the Bengals. Johnson has been a consistent presence on the Bengal defensive line. His production has decreased and his time with the Bengals could be coming to a close. Cincinnati drafted Moeller product Sam Hubbard, who has gotten adequate repossessions at defensive end.

The Bengals have five more games to make a case to be a playoff team. While injuries have taken their toll on Cincinnati, nobody will cry the blues or cut these Bengals any slack. Every team has to deal with it. If this talented defensive line doesn’t start to make a difference in the games, head coach Marvin Lewis won’t be criticized for losing another playoff game. He simply won’t be in one.

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