The Bengals have crashed the NFL leader boards while making an early statement with their unbeaten 6-0 record as they hit the bye week.
And it's not just quarterback Andy Dalton, who leads the league in fourth-quarter passing with a rating of 146.3. He ranks second with an overall rating of 116.1. He’s also second with 1,761 passing yards, second with 9.12 yards per pass attempt, and tied for second in touchdowns (14) and fewest interceptions (2). Dalton is third in touchdown/interception differential (plus-12).
It's impressive for a man who took so much heat during the offseason. But Dalton and each and every one of his fellow league leaders on the team would gladly trade an individual statistical title for conference and league crowns. However, numbers help tell the Bengals' story as they forged a two-game lead in the AFC North Division. And what a tale it is as Cincinnati put plenty of tiger in the tank.
Scoring is up this year for the Bengals, from 22.8 points per game last season to 30.3. So, naturally they have some names at the top of the touchdown tally. Tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Jeremy Hill are tied for first in the AFC with six touchdowns each. They are tied for second in the league.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said it's part of the job description for his talented youngsters.
"With Tyler and so forth; they need to make big plays when they’re called upon, and they have to respond," Lewis said. "The same thing with the running backs, whether that’s carrying the ball, protecting or catching the ball."
Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman is the NFL leader with 10 touchdowns. Three NFC players, Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Green Bay's James Jones, and Arizona running back David Johnson are tied with the Bengals' duo with six apiece.
According to the Bengals, it's been 44 years since teammates ended a season ranked 1-2 in touchdowns in either conference. In 1971, the Cowboys' Duane Thomas led the NFC with 13 touchdowns, and Dallas teammate Calvin Hill was second with 11.
Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap continues to lead the league in sacks. He now has 6.5 after getting credit for 1.5 against Buffalo. New England end Chandler Jones (five games) and Green Bay linebacker Julius Peppers (six games) are tied for second with 5.5 sacks. Jones leads the league with 1.1 per game, compared to 1.08 for Dunlap, who was tied for league leadership after Week 5 with five.
Dunlap is on a 16-game pace for 17.5 sacks, which would be the Bengals' most in the official era, surpassing end Eddie Edwards' 13 in 1983 (the Bengals date their sack records to 1976; the record is 22 by end Coy Bacon in '76 with Edwards' total of 13 ranking second). Dunlap also leads the team with 13 quarterback hits, seven tackles-for-loss, and he leads the defensive line with 24 tackles, ranking fifth overall.
“Last year we didn’t have the rotation (of in-game personnel) that we had the few years before that," Dunlap said as he discussed the team's improved sack totals. “We had some guys injured at times, and we didn’t have Mike (Johnson) or Pat (Sims). Will (Clarke) maybe wasn’t quite ready to get his feet wet last year, and last year we had Wallace (Gilberry) playing nose in some run situations, and that’s not really what we want. Having this rotation back, and keeping guys healthy is going to be huge for us."
The Bengals have never had an AFC or NFL sack leader for a full season since the league made sacks an official statistic in 1982. Their highest-ranking individual on the leader board is defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who ranked sixth with 12.5 in 2012. That year, Atkins tied for the team's highest conference rank while finishing fourth in the AFC, equaling end Jim Skow's tied-for-fourth finish with 9.5 sacks in 1988.
Atkins ranks second in the league among interior defensive linemen with 4 sacks, trailing only Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy, who has 4.5. Atkins is on pace for 10.5 sacks on the season. Though Cincinnati hasn't had a league or conference single-season sacks leader, Atkins led NFL interior linemen with his 12.5 sacks in 2012. He tied for the league’s interior lineman lead in 2011 with 7.5.
Coach Lewis said there is a lot more to digest about Atkins, other than his steady diet of sacks: “I think Geno in particular has been playing the run exceptionally well. I think that always gets a little underrated, in Geno’s case. If they try to single-block him in the running game, we know the ball is coming back to us.”