Bengals-Broncos; a defensive battle


CINCINNATI (AP) — No. 1 in fewest yards passing allowed. No. 1 in fewest yards rushing allowed. Denver’s top-ranked defense has been the best at pretty much everything, keeping the Broncos in contention for a lofty playoff seed.

Don’t think they haven’t noticed in Cincinnati.

The Bengals (11-3) could grab the No. 2 seed in the AFC and bolster their reputation as having a pretty good defense, too, when they play in Denver on Monday night with a lot at stake. It could come down to which of two very good defenses is able to be more dominant.

“That’s one of the most exciting things, to me, is going up against another top-tier defense in this atmosphere and in this league,” defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. “For me to sit here and say we don’t pay attention to that, that’s a lie. We do. We want to go out and outperform that unit, and we get a kick out of that.”

They’ve both got their bragging points.

For Denver, it’s that rare balance that allows the Broncos to stop everything. Rarely is a team No. 1 against both the run and the pass. No team has finished a season No. 1 in overall defense, run defense and pass defense since the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles.

The Bengals have given up a lot more yards — they rank ninth overall, including No. 8 against the rush and No. 18 against the pass. But when it comes to stopping opponents in scoring range, nobody has been better. Cincinnati’s defense has given up 243 points, the fewest in the league.

Seattle is second at 248 points, Kansas City third at 257, Denver fourth at 259, Green Bay fifth at 265, and New England and Arizona tied for sixth at 269.

The Bengals are the only team in the league with two players who have at least 10 sacks. End Carlos Dunlap has a career-high 10½ sacks, which ranks seventh in the league.

Tackle Geno Atkins has 10 sacks, one behind the Rams’ Aaron Donald for the league lead by an interior lineman. Safety Reggie Nelson leads the NFL with eight interceptions, two shy of Deltha O’Neal’s club record from 2005.

With two defenses so good, there will be little margin for error by either offense.

“They’re a good defense obviously and we’ve been playing at a pretty high level,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “It could be one play here or one play there or one turnover or a field position thing.”

The defense helped the Bengals get through their quarterback change last Sunday in San Francisco, where AJ McCarron made his first career start in place of the injured Andy Dalton. A fumble recovery and an interception helped the Bengals pull off a 24-14 win.

McCarron will make his second start on Monday night. Dalton has a broken right thumb and could be back in the playoffs if the bone heals quickly. Until then, the defense feels it needs to play an even bigger role. Cincinnati has held six of the past eight opponents to 14 points or fewer.

“Everyone knows that defense wins championships, so if you’re the best defense on the field, usually you are going to win the game,” Gilberry said.

Notes: TE Tyler Eifert (concussion), S George Iloka (groin) and LB Vontaze Burfict (knee) were held out of practice on Thursday. Eifert and Iloka were inactive for the game in San Francisco. … LB Emmanuel Lamur (hamstring) and LB Vincent Rey (hamstring) were limited. OL Jake Fisher returned to full practice after missing two games with a concussion. … The Bengals signed CB Chris Lewis-Harris off their practice squad and waived CB Troy Hill. Lewis-Harris has played in five games this season. Hill played in the past three games.

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