Cincinnati bring tough 'D' to Buffalo

After holding the New England Patriots to just six points last week, the Cincinnati Bengals proved they're one of the best defenses in the National Football League. So, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is likely licking his chops about the team's matchup with the Buffalo Bills and quarterback Thad Lewis, who will be making his second career start.

The Bills are coming off a 37-24 loss to Cleveland last Thursday in which quarterback EJ Manuel went down with a knee injury. The Thursday-night game did give Buffalo extra time to get healthy and prepare for Sunday.

The Daily Messenger asked Paul Dehner Jr., the Bengals beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer, some questions about this year's Bengals. He has covered the team since 2010.

Q: The Bengals defense played great the last two weeks. What makes that unit so effective?

A: It all starts with the front four. This is one of the great defensive lines in football today and — after this offseason — they are paid as such. Geno Atkins landed a 5-year, $55 million deal, Carlos Dunlap six years at $40 million and Michael Johnson a franchise tag of over $11 million for this year alone. They can single-handedly wreck games. And Mike Zimmer knows it. Zimmer, the defensive coordinator, has proven to be one of the elite at his position in the league. He's going to land a head coach job soon considering what he's done here in the last five years. He's turned reclamation projects like Wallace Gilberry, Vontaze Burfict, Terence Newman and Adam Jones into top-tier defensive players.

Q: On the other hand, the offense has struggled. What's wrong with that side of the ball?

A: That's the daily question around these parts. Some say they need to run more, some say pass more but they are struggling to find ways to work all the new parts together efficiently. They added running back Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert in the first two rounds of the draft and have Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in just their second seasons. Andy Dalton has been sporadic and that's really been the biggest part of the problem, but they really lack an identity. They tried to claim one last week with more dedication running the football, I'd look for more of that going forward.

Q: How has Andy Dalton improved since he came into the league?

A: He's proven to be a winner. Countless times he's led this team to key touchdowns late in games to pull off victories. The latest was his 14-play march to go up 13-3 on the Pats in the fourth quarter Sunday. He's much more accurate than he was his rookie season and more comfortable pushing the ball down field, but still does not do that near as effectively as he needs to.

Q: Who is a player on the Bengals that Bills fans may not have heard of, but will have a big impact on Sunday's game?

A: They may have heard of Burfict, but regardless he's the guy to watch. He's second in the league in tackles (50) and will be the primary player responsible with stopping C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. He's rarely let the team down so I wouldn't expect that to be the case Sunday, but he'll be one to watch.

Q: The Bengals will come away with a win on Sunday if …

A: They can run the football consistently. Placing it into the hands of Andy Dalton can be risky business. If he endures a rough day as he did against Cleveland, the Bengals offense can sputter all day. If they can hand it to Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis and stay on schedule, with their defense against Thad Lewis, they'll be tough to beat.

Follow Paul Dehner Jr. on Twitter at pauldehnerjr and Dan Goldman at MPN_DanGoldman.