Bengals' improved pass rush may improve more

PFW staff
AFC North Spin cycle: Bengals primed to rally?

Our sources have been hearing these whispers from around the AFC:

• Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap, who led the club in sacks with 9½ a season ago, has yet to notch a sack in 2011. That said, the Bengals are still on pace to record more sacks than they did a season ago. The pass rush, which is improved as is, could be even stronger if Dunlap — who came on strongly late last season, tallying all of his sacks in the final eight games — again starts racking up QB takedowns. Dunlap has been credited with six QB hits, per NFL game-day statistics, with at least one in 5-of-6 games.

• Browns president Mike Holmgren doesn't believe QB Colt McCoy, who's completing just 55.8 percent of his passes through five starts, is inaccurate. "He's missed a couple throws, and every quarterback in the league misses a couple throws," Holmgren told reporters leading up to Week Seven. "You can't point to too many times when he's got a guy open and he misfires on them. We run a lot of crossing routes, and it's one of the tougher balls to throw right on the money, particularly if you're getting pressured at all. That is not a worry for me. His strength and accuracy, I think, are just fine."

• With Bengals RB Cedric Benson missing the Week Eight game at San Francisco because of an NFL suspension, look for third-year pro Bernard Scott to step into the starting role. Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated that Brian Leonard will also see more action with Benson out. There is also a chance for fourth-string RB Cedric Peerman to get some work, too, according to the coach. Peerman, Lewis said, "has done just a bang-up, tremendous job for us on special teams."

• It's hard to have many qualms about the Ravens' play in starting 4-1 entering Monday night's game at Jacksonville, but pass protection is an issue to watch, the way we hear it. QB Joe Flacco was sacked multiple times in four consecutive games entering Week Seven. Flacco, speaking to reporters leading up to Week Seven, said getting hit came with his job description. "That's part of playing quarterback, getting hit now and then." He praised and defended his offensive line, saying, "They're really starting to come together." It should be noted that Flacco is on pace to be sacked less often than he was a season ago, when he was brought down 40 times.

• Patriots rookie RB Shane Vereen is slowly seeing more time on the field, but we hear that it's not expected for him to get many snaps on offense this season. An injury slowed Vereen in training camp, enabling fellow rookie RB Stevan Ridley to ascend the depth chart. With Kevin Faulk set to come back from the physically-unable-to-perform list, his presence will hinder Vereen's chances to play on offense. For now, he will continue to see time on special teams.

• Bills Pro Bowl DT Kyle Williams will have to miss another game or two after the bye with a foot injury, creating a big void on the defensive line next to standout rookie DL Marcell Dareus. We hear the Bills like what they have seen out of Williams' backup, Torell Troup, who played against the Giants in Week Six. Troup, though, has been dealing with a back injury all season and has played in only two games. That leaves duties to Kellen Heard, a first-year pro who started in Week Six although he surprised one daily team observer by even making the final 53-man roster.

• Jets WR Santonio Holmes made headlines for the wrong reasons earlier this month when he called out the offensive line. We hear, though, that the locker-room chemistry is not as bad as perceived. One daily team observer said that Holmes is generally alone when he shoots his mouth off and it's not as though Jets players are drawing a line in the sand and picking sides.

• It is hard to explain — Jaguars GM Gene Smith's draft picks simply can't stay on the field. His first draft in 2009 included first- and second-round OTs Eugene Monroe and, Eben Britton, both of whom have had injury concerns. Third-round CB Derek Cox has missed time. WR Jarett Dillard spent the past two seasons on injured reserve. Sixth- and seventh-rounders Zach Miller and Rashad Jennings are both on I.R. And that is just '09. 2010 first-round DT Tyson Alualu was a force last season, but his knee is clearly holding him back this season. Third-round DT D'Anthony Smith hasn't taken an NFL snap yet. Fifth-round DE Austen Lane just went on I.R. It's hard to believe how rotten Smith's luck has been.

• Titans CB Jason McCourty has taken his game to a new level this season. He has always been that big, physical guy, but he is playing with much more confidence right now. The Titans have three very good cornerbacks right now; that is an underrated secondary.

• 2010 first-round DE Jerry Hughes is another example of a Colts draft pick who is not good at self-motivation. Hughes does not seem to be bothered by the fact that he can't get on the field right now, and the Colts, surprisingly, are one of the worst pass-rushing teams in the league.

• Texans reserve DE Tim Jamison, who recorded two sacks in the Week Six loss in Baltimore, looks really good in coordinator Wade Phillips' new defense. With another performance similar to that one, the Texans are going to have to find ways to get him on the field.

Tommie Harris had never played in a 3-4 defense before signing with the Chargers, so the team made his adjustment easier by putting him in a position he's familiar with, despite technically moving him to defensive end. Harris lines up over the guard in the team's nickel defense, the same spot where he lined up as a defensive tackle while playing in a 4-3. While nobody expects him return to his Pro Bowl form, the team is pleased with the effort Harris has given.

• Thirty-eight-year-old Casey Wiegmann is still playing at an elite level for the Chiefs, which is the reason that rookie second-round pick Rodney Hudson has remained on the bench. According to a team observer, Hudson has been solid in practice and in his limited playing time rotating in for Wiegmann, and he's still seen as the center of the future for Kansas City.

• With Raiders DE Matt Shaughnessy going on I.R., expect to see the team use LB Kamerion Wimbley on the line occasionally. The addition of Aaron Curry has given the team depth at strong-side linebacker, allowing Wimbley — the team's top edge pass rusher — to move to end on passing downs. Jarvis Moss will be Shaughnessy's primary replacement against the run.