Bengals looking to turn over a new leaf on defense

The 29 points the Cincinnati Bengals defense allowed Sunday in the loss at Pittsburgh were the most the group had allowed in more than a year, dating back 16 games to a 35-17 defeat at New England on Oct. 16, 2016.

And the 420 yards allowed were the most in 15 games, dating to the 546 Washington compiled in a 27-27 tie in London on Oct. 30.

So it’s easy for the Bengals to shrug off the performance as a blip in what has otherwise been a solid run.

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But there was another troubling stat to come out of Sunday’s game that was not all that unusual — zero turnovers.

The Bengals have forced four all year, which is a franchise record for the fewest through the first six games of a season. The previous low was six in 2002, and that team finished with the worst record in team history at 2-14.

“Our main concern is playing good defense and those things will come,” safety George Iloka said. “You can’t really press, but we do need to create turnovers. Because you know how the saying goes, whoever wins the turnover battle usually wins the game.”

The Bengals have yet to win the turnover battle, and as a result their margin is minus-9, which is tied for 30th. Only winless Cleveland is worse at minus-11.

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The minus-9 margin is the worst through the first six games since Marvin Lewis became coach in 2003, and it’s two shy of the franchise record of minus-11 set in 1984.

“I think you just continue to work in practice and make an emphasis in practice, stripping the ball out, making interceptions,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “We make interceptions all the time in practice. You keep emphasizing it. You don’t want them to run out of place or take chances to try to get them, because you’re going to give up big plays that way.

“We could be 32nd in the league in yards but we’re leading in turnovers and now you’re saying hey, too many yards or too many points,” he added. “We just try to continue to impress on the players that it’s important to get the ball out.”

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All four of the turnovers this year, and each of the last 17 dating back to last year, have been interceptions.

The Bengals have not recovered an opponent fumble since the 28-14 loss at Dallas in Week 5 last year. That’s a span of 17 games, which is a modern NFL record (1933).

“It’s been emphasized since last spring,” Lewis said. “It just has to come, and you have to take advantage of it. Make opportunity. When it comes, hopefully the ball bounces your way. We certainly have had enough bounce the other way on offense, but haven’t had those same things bounce our way defensively.”

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During the 17-game run, the Bengals have forced eight fumbles, only to have the opponent recover all eight.

“It’s happened probably three or four times this year already,” Guenther said. “It happened in the Buffalo game right in front of me. We come down and hit the guy and the ball’s laying right there and then the left guard recovers it. That’s just the way it is.

“You just have to keep harping on it,” he added. “I know they’re tired of hearing it from me probably.”

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The last fumble recovery the Bengals made came after Carlos Dunlap sacked Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and linebacker Vinny Rey fell on the ball.

That could be the recipe to ending the streak Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, who have allowed a league-high 29 sacks.

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