The Bengals' defense has gone from finishing dead last in sacks last year to now having the fourth-most sacks of any NFL team after Thursday's win over the Browns.
That game included three sacks of Johnny Manziel, all of which came in the second half as the Browns could only muster up 27 yards of total offense after halftime.
A big contributor to that effort was defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who finished with two sacks in this game to go with three QB hits. He knew it was up to the defensive line to make sure Manziel was contained and didn't scramble around making plays in the same manner he did during his Heisman days at Texas A&M.
"As a D-line, we knew we had to go out there and stop Johnny Manziel," Dunlap said after the game. "We knew the guys were going to be in coverage, and we were going to rush him with four down (linemen). We liked our odds and the opportunities we had. But you have to be careful with that too because Johnny can make plays with his feet, as you saw early in the game. We came out and made our corrections, and the d-line got after him, and the corners gave us time because they were on their men. I’ve never seen the defense play that good in the second half as a unit. So credit goes out to those guys for those coverage sacks."
Dunlap has always been good at getting sacks, but his improved run defense and ability to set the edge has been the biggest improvement he's made during the past two seasons. That was evident to open the third quarter when Dunlap made a key tackle for loss on Isaiah Crowell to put the Browns in a bind at their own goal line.
But it was Dunlap's two sacks on Manziel that really made a big impact in the second half. Even when he wasn't getting sacks, he did a good job of forcing right tackle Mitchell Schwartz back enough that it collapsed the pocket and kept Manziel contained.
That was the case on Dunlap's first sack as he collapsed the pocket to keep Manziel from scrambling and finding an open man before he was taken down:
Dunlaps' second sack came late in the fourth quarter on Cleveland's final possession after they'd driven into the red zone. Dunlap simply got off his block and chased Manziel down as Manziel tried to scramble and get someone open.
Dunlap now has 8.5 sacks through eight games this season. That's tied with Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt and Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones for the most of any NFL player. Dunlap's current pace would leave him with 17 sacks through 16 games, which would be a Bengals franchise record.
Forget that. Dunlap wants to break the NFL record, which is 22.5 set by Michael Strahan in the 2001 season.
"I’m going for 23 (sacks). That’s always been my goal since I got in the league, to get that sack record," Dunlap said. "Michael Strahan’s got it. Fortunately, we’re in a good place right now, but it’s a long season and we’ve got a long way to go. As a defensive unit, last year we only had 20 sacks, so we have that chip on our shoulder. There’s a long way to go, so hopefully there’s more to come."
Now at the midway point of the Bengals' season, it's not out of the question that Dunlap finishes 2015 with a record-breaking number of sacks.