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The Bengals defense is getting back on track

Mike Hilton interception ignites another defensive gem

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Mike Hilton
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

“Best feeling in the world, man.”

Mike Hilton, who spent the last five years with the Pittsburgh Steelers before being signed to a 4-year, $24 million contract by the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason, summed it up best after the first pick-6 of his career, at any level, helped the Bengals dismantle the Steelers Sunday, 41-10.

Mike Hilton is a winner,” said Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor. “Mike Hilton brings constant energy. We talk about guys who are consistent every single day, and we know what to expect from them when they walk in the building: That’s Mike Hilton to a T. He’s just awesome to be around. He brings a high standard to everybody, and guys just respect the heck out of him.”

Hilton was not the only bright spot on a defensive unit that struggled in games against the Jets and the Browns, but has begun to return to the form that saw them rated as a top-10 defense after the first seven weeks of the season.

Trey Hendrickson set a new Bengals’ record with a sack in seven straight games, giving him 10.5 in Cincinnati’s first 11 games. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by fellow defensive end Sam Hubbard. Hubbard also recorded a sack, running his season total to seven.

B.J. Hill, who the Bengals acquired in a preseason trade for center/guard Billy Price, also rang up a sack, his fourth, while the much-maligned Eli Apple came up with an interception for the second week in a row, and his 50-yard return set up a Cincinnati field goal.

The defense held the Steelers’ to a measly 51 yards on the ground and harassed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all day. Roethlisberger completed just 24 of 41 passes for 250 yards, a meaningless touchdown against Bengals’ second-teamers, and the two interceptions.

“They’ve just got a lot of confidence right now in how they’re playing and what we’re asking them to do,” Taylor said. “Playing next to each other, the communication’s been really good and different guys are stepping up and making big plays for us. That’s really good to see at this point in the year.”

Sunday’s effort helped push the Bengals’ defense back into the top ten in points allowed (Cincinnati stands in a tie for sixth with Seattle at 20.5 points surrendered per game). Cincinnati is up to No. 5 in rush yards allowed per game at 93.7 and stands at No. 11 in total yards allowed per game at 348.2.

The Bengals’ offense continues to roll (No. 6 in the NFL in points scored at an average of 28.1 per game and No. 13 overall) and the defense is once again flexing its muscles - not to mention a rookie field-goal kicker in Evan McPherson who has nailed seven of eight attempts from over 50 yards already this season.

“We’ve kind of got that momentum back that we had earlier in the season that we knew we could have,” Taylor said. “We had that little stumble, but these guys have a ton of confidence. The standard is really high for them. They can handle these wins responsibly. We put them behind us, and we’re going to move on to the next one.”

Cincinnati welcomes the 6-5 Los Angeles Chargers to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.