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Bengals defense clamps down after Jeremy Hill's fumble issues continue

It was a rough day for the Bengals' second-year running back, but one of the major keys to the Bengals' win against the Chargers was the response of the defense.

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In a wild and wacky afternoon in Cincinnati, the Chargers and the Bengals engaged in a roller coaster of a football game. At times, neither team seemed like they wanted to win the game, while at others, they took a stranglehold of the contest and were unwilling to concede a defeat.

Both teams committed two fumbles on the day, yet none were huge momentum-shifters. The two made by the Bengals came from running back Jeremy Hill after he walked the razor's edge with the issue in 2014. As a rookie, Hill fumbled the ball five times, only losing one, but it was a point of emphasis for improvement this offseason. Hue Jackson preached it to the second-year star this spring and summer and it sounded like he took the coaching to heart.

After a pretty solid showing against the Raiders in the regular season opener, Hill arguably had his toughest outing as a pro on Sunday against the Chargers. After averaging just 3.9 yards-per-carry on 10 attempts, the two fumbles ushered him to the bench in embarrassing fashion. When asked about the situation in his postgame press conference, head coach Marvin Lewis simply stated "We had a little combination of both. Gio was carrying the ball, but we can’t have a back fumbling the football either. Jeremy’s a talented young player, and we’ve got to keep the football. That wasn’t part of his deal last year, and we can’t let it creep in."

Bernard took advantage of the opportunity and ran for 123 yards on 20 carries, which was his second-best day on the ground in his career and second 100-yard rushing day. Bernard took over the rushing duties for the rest of the day after Hill fumbled a pitch right in his hands with just under eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. Hill never stepped on the field again from that point until the final whistle.

When asked about the issues on the day and potentially being benched, Hill said, ""They told me to stay ready. Gio obviously did a good job of stepping in there and finishing the game for us. We needed that from him. We were able to overcome my turnovers and win the game. That’s all that matters."

The story that overshadows Hill's continuing issues from last season is the performance of the defense in the wake of the potential tide-turners. Both of Hill's fumbles were relinquished to the Chargers in Bengals territory, putting the defense in a precarious position to hold tight and not let the game get out of control.

In their rejuvenation project this season on that side of the ball, the defense came up huge on both occasions, heavily affecting the scoreboard. After the first fumble was lost, the Chargers started at the Bengals' 48-yard line and were poised to strike. Instead, the Chargers only had three plays and on third-and-two, Philip Rivers was hit by Wallace Gilberry and fumbled the ball away to Chris Carter.  Zero points allowed.

Fast-forward to the middle of the third quarter to the inexplicable fumble off a pitch, as noted above. Cincinnati's defense was pinned back on their 35-yard line with just a one-point lead. Melvin Gordon, who had gashed the team at times, ran for a yard and the ensuing play was a sack. Rivers threw one of his trademark short passes to Danny Woodhead and the defense swarmed to him causing a long field goal attempt on fourth down. Josh Lambo pushed the 47-yarder wide and the Bengals maintained the lead.

Much will be made of the performances of Andy Dalton, Tyler Eifert, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Bernard, and rightfully so. However, the defensive unit as a whole, held tight in these critical situations. Gilberry talked about his defensive line coach, Jay Hayes, challenging the defensive front to step up on the day and said, "Coach Jay (Hayes) challenged us earlier in the week to get pressure and get him on the ground. We took it upon ourselves to go out and accept the challenge. I think we did a good job. We were in his face all day. Philip even came up to me and told me, ‘You guys are on me.’ So I think we did a pretty good job."

Mission accomplished, D. Mission accomplished.