Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sports

A diverse group united by one goal: sacks

At 6 feet 7, Michael Johnson towers over blockers. At 6-1, Geno Atkins often gets dwarfed on the line. Domata Peko is gregarious. Carlos Dunlap tends to cut off interviews after a few questions.

The Bengals' defensive line is an eclectic mix. Together, they formed one of the NFL's best units this season and are one of the main reasons Cincinnati is in the playoffs again.

The Bengals set a club record with 51 sacks this season, 40 from a line that is more of a melting pot than anything else.

"We're very different," said Dunlap, a former Gator defensive end. "Mike's from Selma, Ala. I'm from Charleston, S.C. Geno's from Fort Lauderdale. You've got a whole bunch of guys from miles and miles away from each other, probably a 10-hour drive to get to each destination.

"But when we're in this locker room, we're a few feet away as we are on the field and in synch with one another. I hope this young group can stay together and go on for a long time and be part of something special."

"Something special" would be beating the Texans today, which would be the franchise's first playoff win since 1990.

Atkins led all interior linemen with 12½ sacks and was voted a Pro Bowl starter for the first time. Johnson had 11½ sacks, giving Cincinnati its first pair of players with double-digit sacks since 1981, when it reached the Super Bowl for the first time. Dunlap has six and Peko two.

The reserves have done well, too. Wallace Gilberry has 6½ sacks and Robert Geathers three.

The Texans offense struggled down the stretch, contributing to three losses in four games. It scored 16 or fewer points in the losses. If the Texans can't slow the Bengals' front four, they are in trouble.

"They've been so good because they're very talented up front," Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. "They can pressure well with the four guys or adding any number of guys to it. It's a unique challenge for us."

The defense has given Cincinnati a chance to go to Houston for the second year in a row. The Bengals lost 31-10 in the wild card round last year. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer believes his crew is better this time.

The defense has scored a touchdown in each of the past three games and allowed 13 points or fewer in six of the past eight.

"Boy, that's incredible in the National Football League," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.

Dunlap likes to believe they're just getting started after taking a few years to come together.

"It can't be sunny days all the time," Dunlap said. "After the rain is the rainbow. That's what my mom would tell you. Right now, we're on the better side of the rain, and we want to keep that going and try to find that gold at the end of the rainbow."

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