Bengals’ defense much improved, but still ‘more to prove’

Cincinnati will face stiff test Sunday against Lamar Jackson, Ravens

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals defense ranks among the best in the league, but safety Vonn Bell said this week is another chance to prove doubters wrong.

After sitting in the bottom 10 in most defensive categories last year, the Bengals have limited opponents to 18.5 points and 331.0 yards per game, ranking fifth and eighth respectively, and they are coming off arguably their best performance overall Sunday in a 34-11 win at Detroit.

Now, they face another big challenge when they head to Baltimore for a Week 7 matchup against the AFC North-leading Ravens (5-1), but the defense is flying in with confidence.

“Everybody knows what we have in the room,” Bell said Monday. “We just have to prove it week in and week out. We already know what’s brewing. We’ve got guys oozing with confidence and wanting to make a play. This will be a stepping stone for us, and I think we’re going to be ready for it.”

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Baltimore handed the Bengals’ two of their most lopsided losses last year, rolling to 27-3 and 38-3 wins that included some big-yardage performances.

In the 2020 finale, the Ravens racked up 525 yards of offense, including 404 yards on the ground, and in the first meeting, tight end Mark Andrews caused problems in the middle of the field after the Bengals managed to shut down Lamar Jackson’s running game.

Bell said this time the Bengals have a chance to show why this defense is so different.

“It’s a whole new group,” Bell said. “It’s a whole different mindset, a change in mindset. Everything is different. It’s night and day different. You can tell that on film with the guys that we brought in, with the guys that stayed and everybody bought in, and it’s one big family. We always hold each other accountable and we don’t want to let that person down next to next to us. So, we’re all playing as one tribe, and we go we go as the team goes, and that’s what we’re showing week in and week out.”

After beginning his career with a New Orleans defense that was highly respected, Bell knows what a good defense looks like.

“We’re very close,” he said. “When we’ve got a D-Line eating like that. Guys be playing with one another and trusting in one another. Everybody flying around and having fun. I feel like I’m back there (in New Orleans) and we brought it here. So, man it’s hats off to the guys working their butts off, week in and week out, preparing challenging each other, being accountable being selfless. And what a group that we have, and we just want to keep on improving ourselves week in and week out and we still got more to prove. We’ve still got more to go, and that’s just the beginning of it.”

The Bengals will once again be focusing on stopping Jackson, a dual-threat quarterback who averages 281.0 passing yards per game and 65.3 rushing yards per game.

Cincinnati limited him to two carries for three yards in the first matchup last year, but allowed him to run for 97 yards in the finale, and he has rushed for more than 100 yards twice in his five career starts against the Bengals.

“It’s going to be a challenge, for sure,” Bell said. “This group of guys has been accepting that challenge week in and out. It’s going to take a team effort, especially on defense to contain him and for the division, if we want to get to where we want to get to, we have to win the division first. It’s all been a mindset. We’ve been going out there and proving ourself week in and week out and that’s the mindset of the group. We go to work day by day and keep getting better.”

Jackson is a tough one to prepare for in practice because few people can simulate his ability to extend plays, but the Bengals did get some preparation for Andrews last week when they matched up against Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson.

Bell said the matchup with Hockenson started well but the Bengals got away from what they were doing late in the game. He finished with 11 catches for 87 yards, and Andrews will be another good test.

“Him and his connection with Lamar, he’s one of the top tight ends in the league for sure,” Bell said of Andrews. “With that chemistry with those two, that’s his safety blanket and as he works into his progression, they do well together so it’s going to be a challenge for sure and we’re accepting that. I can’t wait.”

The Bengals, currently second in the AFC North, will be bringing “a little extra juice” overall this week as they want to show they can contend in the division.

“It’s going to be a little extra this week,” Bell said. “It’s always that mindset of last year when the game ended, how are you going to roll into it this year? It’s always in the back of mind, so there’s going to be extra juice, for sure.”


SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Ravens, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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