CINCINNATI (AP) — The Steelers piled up 481 yards against Cincinnati’s historically bad defense.
The Chiefs and the Buccaneers each went well over 500 yards the next two weeks, putting the Bengals on the cusp of NFL history.
No defense has allowed three straight 500-yard games. In order to avoid the ignominy, the Bengals (5-3) are going to have to stop an offense that’s been lighting it up.
Hello, Drew Brees.
The Saints (7-1) have won seven straight and are coming off a 45-35 win that sent the Rams to their first loss. New Orleans piled up 487 yards behind Brees, who leads the NFL in completion rate (76.3 percent) and passer rating (120.6). He’s been sacked a league-low nine times.
If the Bengals fail to get a hand on him, it could be history .
“They go as Brees goes,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “We’ve got to find a way to slow down that future Hall of Famer.”
The biggest challenge for the Saints will be keeping the momentum in their only road game during a four-week span. They return home to play the Eagles and Falcons the next two weeks.
Although the Bengals have given up the most yards in the NFL, the defense has scored four touchdowns on interception and fumble returns, playing a big factor in three of their wins.
The Saints can’t afford to get off to a bad start that gives the Bengals the advantage. Also, it would help if the Saints tidied up their defense a bit.
While the Bengals are historically bad — on pace to give up more than 7,000 yards — the Saints are also struggling on defense. They rank 25th overall, including second-worst in pass defense. They’ve been among the worst at stopping opponents inside the 20-yard line. The Rams overcame an 18-point halftime deficit and tied it 35-35 in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans would like fewer shootouts in the second half of the season.
“There’s a ton of things we have to improve on and we need to improve on, or it’s going to hurt us later,” coach Sean Payton said.
Some things to watch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
THE NEW GUY
New Orleans signed former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant on Wednesday . It’s unclear what role — if any — he’ll play this week as he tries to learn the offense. Deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. is hurt, and the Saints hope Bryant can add another dimension to the offense once he gets acclimated.
“I look forward to building a rapport with him,” Brees said. “I look forward to getting him involved in this offense and just become a complement to all the guys that we already have.”
While Bryant’s arrival gets attention, Michael Thomas remains the Saints’ biggest threat. He set a franchise record last week with 211 yards receiving, including his 72-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. With half the season still remaining, Thomas has 70 catches for 880 yards and five TDs.
The Saints’ most glaring problems on defense have come near the goal line. New Orleans’ opponents have scored touchdowns on 20 of 28 drives (71.4 percent). That ranks 28th out of 32 teams in defensive red zone efficiency.
“You can’t find any team having success later in the season with the numbers that we currently have,” Payton said. “We’ve got to find a way to improve that.”
The Bengals lead the league in scoring touchdowns once they get inside the 20-yard line, reaching the end zone on 20 of their 26 such possessions. They’ve scored touchdowns on eight of their past nine trips inside the 20.
“We’ve had some really good schemes,” Andy Dalton said. “At the end of the day, our guys have made the plays.”
OH THAT HISTORY
No NFL team has given up three straight 500-yard games. The 1963 Jets gave up three 500-yard games within a four-game span — 510 to the Chargers, 505 to the Raiders, 317 to the Broncos and 528 to the Chargers again. In its past three games, Cincinnati has allowed 481 to the Steelers, 551 to the Chiefs and 576 to the Buccaneers.
“We’re underachieving right now,” Dunlap said. “We’re playing well enough to win some games, which is why we’re 5-3. If we work on the negatives, we can be that elite defense and that elite team.”
A.J. Green caught a 13-yard touchdown pass with 7 seconds left for a win in Atlanta. He had two catches that moved the Bengals into range for their winning field goal against Tampa Bay before they headed into their bye last week. He also hurt a toe on his right foot on the final catch and is sidelined indefinitely, costing Cincinnati its most dependable receiver.
“It is a huge impact,” Payton said. “He is someone that commands a ton of coverage respect.”