The Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line has cleared the way for more than 160 rushing yards in back-to-back games against a pair of strong defensive lines, but the test facing the group Sunday may be the stiffest yet.
Led by two-time Pro Bowl tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Detroit Lions boast one of the top front fours in the league.
“The front group is very-well stocked and good,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said of the unit that also includes defensive tackle Nick Fairley and defensive ends Willie Young and rookie Ezekial Ansah. “They have hard-playing guys up front, and they make their defense go.”
And sometimes, they continue to go even after the whistle.
Especially Suh, who often is referred to as the dirtiest player in the game. During his four seasons in the league, he has drawn numerous penalties, a two-game suspension and been fined nearly $300,000.
Just last week Suh was fined $31,5000 for hitting Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden with the crown of his helmet.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has a history with Suh as well. In Dalton’s NFL debut in the preseason opener in Detroit in 2011, he had an encounter with Suh that ended with him thrown to the ground after being separated from his helmet.
“He’s an aggressive guy,” Dalton said. “He’s a disruptive guy. So you’ve got to find ways to slow him down. We know where he’s going to be. It’s a big challenge for us.”
Whenever Suh is the topic, the “dirty” word always comes up. But the Bengals players weren’t biting.
“He’s a good player who plays hard,” Bengals center Kyle Cook said when asked if Suh is a dirty player.
“I don’t know what a dirty player is,” Cincinnati left tackle Andrew Whitworth added. “He’s not dirtier than guys that played the game back in the day. The real truth is now he plays the game in an era where there’s a TV camera covering every single possible thing on the field, and a lot of stuff gets put on film. Outside of that, people would never even know some of these antics.
“I think he plays the game on the borderline level with a lot of intensity and sometimes it carries on into extra stuff,” Whitworth added. “I don’t know that there’s a lot of guys that play that way that it doesn’t happen to sometimes.”
Second-year right guard Kevin Zeitler will draw the primary assignment on Suh, although Cook is sure to be involved as well.
Zeitler said he, like everyone else, is aware of Suh’s reputation. But he won’t try to use it against him.
“I just try to do my job the right way,” he said. “Why would you want to waste energy on something like that? The only thing that matters is the play. We don’t need any extra-curriculars.”
Of course, there is more to Suh than just attitude. Last year he finished second in the league in sacks by a defensive tackle with eight, trailing only the Bengals’ Geno Atkins (12.5).
Likewise, there is more to the Lions’ line than just Suh.
Fairley ranked fifth among defensive tackles with 5.5 sacks last year. And Ansah, the fifth overall pick in the draft this year, leads the team with three sacks this season and also has a pair of forced fumbles.
“This is a defense that’s filled with a bunch of good players,” Cook said. “You’ve got to play with your head on a swivel. You have to be ready for anything. They play football in some terms, whistle to whistle. Full out. You just know that.”
While the Detroit front four has been able to pressure quarterbacks without any blitz help, the Lions rank 29th of 32 teams in rush defense, allowing 124.8 yards per game.
And they rank 30th in average yards allowed on first down (6.6).
“It’s kind of funny because I watch them on film and it doesn’t look like they’re giving up that many yards,” Zeitler said. “Maybe it’s a big play here or there, but I’d say they’re pretty consistent.
“They’re good. There’s no way to hide that,” Zeitler added. “We’re going to have to come out with our best effort.”