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Cincinnati (4-2) travels to play the Chiefs (5-1) on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium, and the defensive line goes into the prime-time game hungry to get the pass rush going again.
“We’re going to keep trying to dial it up,” defensive end Jordan Willis said. “That probably could be the main reason why we didn’t win the game, is not keeping the quarterback in the pocket. Skip to this week, Mahomes, when he gets out of the pocket, that’s when he’s most dangerous. So if we don’t keep him in the pocket it could be similar situations. … It’s just about keeping him in the pocket. I would say we do have a chip on our shoulders.”
The Bengals didn’t sack Roethlisberger once in their 28-21 loss Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, and they only pressured him twice.
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Mahomes, who is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, is similar to Roethlisberger but faster, Willis said – and he would know better than most. Willis, a second-year player out of Kansas State, played against Mahomes, a first-round draft pick last year, at least twice when he was at Texas Tech.
Cincinnati only has faced Mahomes once last year in the preseason when most of the defensive starters were already out of the game.
“I’m not saying he’s Big Ben, but he can be considered like a Big Ben because he’s a bigger quarterback,” Willis said. “I know in the preseason last year there was a play and I tried to bend the corner and get him and he kind of slipped up the field. So if you don’t get a good wrap up on him, he’s going to get away from you. … Just because he’s a bigger body he’s going to be harder to take down. And he can move. With him being younger, he can move a little bit better than Ben.”
Anchored by veterans Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, the line was expected to be a strength of the Bengals defense this season, and for the most part it has been, thanks to depth and a steady rotation allowing players to stay fresh.
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Cincinnati has 13 sacks and 39 quarterback hits, but last week’s inability to get to Roethlisberger pushed the Bengals down in the rankings for top pass rushing defenses. Atkins accounts for six sacks and 12 quarterback hits and was leading the league in most total pressures with 31 going into Week 6. Dunlap has four sacks and eight quarterback hits.
Carl Lawson, who comes in a lot on third down, had totaled the 15th-most pressures in the NFL with 21 through five games.
“This is a deep defensive line, and we have a lot of potential to do great things,” Dunlap said. “We just have to keep executing and stay focused, and the sacks will come.”
Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said it was disappointing his pass rushers couldn’t at least harass Roethlisberger a little to make him uncomfortable. That’s something he hopes they can take advantage of against a young quarterback like Mahomes.
Getting to Mahomes wouldn’t just be a statement for the Bengals defensive linemen, Dunlap said. It’s important to the outcome of the game because Kansas City averages a league-best 35.8 points per game, and the Bengals need to disrupt the Chiefs’ offense as much as possible.
Mahomes’ ability to get passes off quickly just adds to the challenge, but the lessons learned against the Steelers could help this week.
“Anytime you have a quarterback, whether it be a rookie or a veteran, our goal is to make him uneasy and get his jersey dirty within the rules,” Dunlap said. “… Just like last week, he’s getting rid of the ball fast. You just keep rushing. If you’re disciplined on defense, you’re going to get your shot. You’ve just got to make sure you make it when you do.
“This game is a great opportunity for us. Anytime you want to be one of the great ones on the defense or you want your defense to have a statement-type game, you have to do it against the best offenses in the league and right now they’re putting up those points like they’re one of the best offenses in the league. So you’ve got to go out there and put it on ‘em.”
Bengals at Chiefs, 8:20 p.m., NBC, 700, 1530, 102.7, 1o4.7