Bengals head to Cleveland among NFL interception leaders
Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55) celebrates in the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
CINCINNATI (AP) Whoever starts at quarterback for the winless Browns will be facing a defense that's among the best in the league at taking the ball away.
It's one of the things that's gone right in Cincinnati's lost season.
The Bengals are tied for second in the NFL with 14 interceptions, one behind San Diego. And it's not only the interceptions that stand out.
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The Bengals (4-7-1) also among the best at knocking down passes at the line of scrimmage.
End Carlos Dunlap has 14 passes defensed, six more than any other lineman in the NFL and only three short of the league lead overall.
The entire line is adept at getting their hands on passes as they leave the quarterback's hand.
''He's got these arms that are all over the place,'' Browns coach Hue Jackson said on Wednesday, referring to Dunlap. ''Guys are tipping balls, knocking balls down.''
The NFL doesn't keep detailed statistics for passes defensed, so it's difficult to put Dunlap's accomplishment in historical perspective. No Bengals lineman has ever led the team in that category.
Dunlap had four passes defensed during a 32-14 win over the Eagles on Sunday, including a misdirected pass that was intercepted by linebacker Vontaze Burfict. It was one of Cincinnati's three interceptions.
''A lot of teams are trying to eliminate the rush by quick-throwing, so you get your hand on the ball and (Burfict) can come down with the ball and that's a win for the defense,'' Dunlap said.
The Browns have thrown 12 interceptions – only seven teams have more – while using six different quarterbacks because of injuries.
Cincinnati's defense is playing better heading into its rematch with the Browns (0-12) , allowing 19 points or fewer in three straight games, its best such stretch of the season.
Last season, Cincinnati gave up an average of only 17.4 points per game, the second-fewest in the league, and only two teams scored 27 points.
This season, the Bengals have allowed 21.6 this season, with four teams scoring at least 27. The Bengals beat the Browns 31-17 on Oct. 23 .
With Burfict making impact plays again after opening the season with a suspension from the league, the defense is looking more like it did last season.
''We are playing more in sync and limiting all the big plays,'' Dunlap said.
''When there's a turnover, a sudden change, we're keeping them out of the end zone. Those are things that we hang our helmets on and we're getting back to that.''
The Bengals held Philadelphia to a three-and-out on its game-opening possession last week, allowing the offense to have a chance to take the early lead.
Cincinnati scored on its first six possessions, its best showing of the season, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth said the defense's solid play was a factor.
''When you're playing from behind, there's a little added pressure to score,'' Whitworth said. ''When you have a chance to play with a lead – like we did a lot last year – you're in a lot smoother play-calling scenario, there's a lot less pressure.
''I think people just settle in better when it's like that.''
NOTES: WR A.J. Green worked out on a side field Wednesday. He has been inactive for the past two games with a severely strained right hamstring and isn't expected to play in Cleveland. … C Russell Bodine (illness), DE Wallace Gilberry (calf), TE C.J. Uzomah (calf) and WR James Wright (knee) also were held out of practice. Gilberry was inactive for the win over Philadelphia. … G Clint Boling (shoulder), LS Clark Harris (groin) and WR Brandon LaFell (knee) were limited.
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