CINCINNATI – The 300-yard passing benchmark in the NFL may not be as magical as it was 15-20 years ago, but it’s still a good benchmark. Rules changes over the years have turned the NFL into a pass-first league, but it’s still an accomplishment to reach 300 yards passing in a single game.
If a quarterback gets to 300, chances are he and his offense had a pretty good day.
For a defense, it’s more than just a badge of honor to keep a quarterback from that plateau.
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The Bengals have had a lot of good defensive days the last two seasons.
Sunday’s 17-10 win at San Diego was the 25th time in the last 26 games that the Cincinnati defense held its opponent to less than 300 yards passing. Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers came into the game averaging 307.4 yards per game, including four games of 390 or more yards, but the Bengals limited him to 252 yards passing and a season-low passer rating of 80.0.
Rivers was averaging 8.52 yards per pass attempt coming into the game, but the Bengals allowed just 6.2 yards (and sacked Rivers twice). They gave up just two pass plays of 20 or more yards. The Chargers had beaten Kansas City 41-38 the previous week, putting up nearly 500 yards against a defense that was ranked No. 2 in the NFL in scoring defense.
The Bengals forced three turnovers against a team that committed just 13 previously and held San Diego to its lowest point total of the season.
“That’s a good defense. They’ve got good linebackers that tackle and really run. The secondary is a very experienced group that plays well,” said Rivers. “I thought defensively, arguably, the best defense we’ve played against. We helped them some, but they had a lot to do with it.”
Rivers, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, is just the latest in a list of top-level quarterbacks the Bengals have more than held their own against this season.
They previously beat three teams with Super Bowl champion quarterbacks – Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger), Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers) and New England (Tom Brady) – while making last year’s Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco look pedestrian even though they lost 20-17 in overtime at Baltimore.
The Bengals intercepted Rodgers twice in a 34-30 win on Sept. 22, ending Rodgers’ streak of 41 straight games without more than one interception. When they beat the Patriots 13-6 on Oct. 6, they did so by stopping Brady’s streak of 52 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.
Up next is AFC South division leading Indianapolis and second-year phenom Andrew Luck. That might bode well for them, given that they’ve seemingly had more trouble with quarterbacks with lesser pedigrees.
“There are a lot of really good quarterbacks and receivers in this league, so I don’t know if you can say you heighten your focus more for one guy than another,” cornerback Terence Newman said. “Case in point was the first Cleveland game. We played a relatively unknown quarterback (Brian Hoyer) and he had some pretty good success against us.
“I think hearing some of the statistics, like how (San Diego) was a top-seven offense in the league, we all knew we had to play at our best to limit what they were doing. I think that was a big factor.”
There have been 93 300-yard passing games this season heading into Monday night’s New Orleans at Seattle game. Quarterbacks the Bengals have faced this season have produced more than one-third (32) of those games, yet the only one against the Bengals belongs to Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. That would be 1.1 percent.
There have been 172 100-yard receiving games this season, but only four have come against the Bengals, or 2.3 percent.
Mike Zimmer’s defense is giving up an average of 5.5 yards per pass attempt, second in the NFL. Include the 36 sacks the Bengals have for a loss of 235 yards and they’re allowing just 5.1 yards on each passing play they face. The league average is 6.7 yards per play.
“That gives the credit to the guys up front,” said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who had his first career interception on Sunday, stealing a Rivers pass intended for tight end Antonio Gates. “Without them, maybe they would be throwing the ball on us. You’ve got to give the credit to the guys up front.”
All three segments of the defense – the line, the linebackers and the secondary – have contributed to the unit’s success.
“We’ve been consistent on a week-to-week basis, that regardless of who we’re facing we want to go out and put our best on the field,” defensive tackle Brandon Thompson said. “Of course guys like Brady are tougher. He’s one of the elite quarterbacks in this league but we go in the same way all of the time. That’s preparing to be the best we can be.”