CINCINNATI - The Bengals' defense knows it's on the spot Monday night.
One of the NFL's best defenses last year has underplayed drastically in the first half of this season. To a large degree, the Bengals' 3-4-1 record is on them.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick says the Bengals are very lucky to be coming out of their bye week with a chance of winning the division title again.
"The football gods have kind of given us a second chance at this thing, and we've just got to take full advantage of it," Kirkpatrick said last week as the Bengals prepared for their Monday night game at the New York Giants (5-3).
Thanks to Pittsburgh's four-game losing streak, the Bengals can jump over the 4-5 Steelers into second place in the AFC North with a win. And they would trail the first-place Ravens (5-4) by just a half-game.
There will be at least one change and probably more on a Bengals' defense that has given up 400 yards in three of the last four games. After Sunday's games, the Bengals rank 24th in the NFL in overall defense, 24th in rushing and 20th in passing.
LB Rey Maualuga is out with fibula injury, and Vincent Rey will step in at middle linebacker. The Bengals re-signed old-reliable DE Wallace Gilberry last week, and coordinator Paul Guenther said more changes were in store at other spots, though he declined to elaborate.
Gilberry's return shows how desperate the Bengals are to invigorate their pass rush. Linemen Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko and Michael Johnson combined for 34½ sacks last season; they're on pace for 19 this year. Atkins had 11 sacks last season; he has only 3 1/2 this season. Dunlap is down from a career-high 13 1/2 to five.
Gilberry, who signed with the Lions as a free agent in the offseason, has missed the last month with an abdominal injury. Gilberry played in four games before he got hurt. He was released with an injury settlement.
But the Bengals plan to use Gilberry in passing situations even though he only had a few practices. Gilberry will probably replace Johnson, who is listed as questionable (calf).
"That's a lot of pressure, but I'm built for it," Gilberry said Thursday. "I'm not going to say it's a piece of cake because there's still a lot of work to be done, and I haven't played football in a month, My body feels good. It's different when you are coming into a place and they know you."
When the Bengals returned after the bye week, Guenther told the defense that jobs are on the line.
"Changes are going to come," safety George Iloka said. "They always say the definition of a crazy man is someone who does the same thing on and on and expects to get different results. So of course they have to switch things up."
The Bengals will be facing one of the NFL's most electric receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. (44 catches, 15.4 average, 5 TDs).
"He can do it all," says Bengals corner Adam Jones. "He can go up and get the ball. He can run after the catch … catch the ball good, run decent routes. He's a complete receiver.
The Giants' other outstanding receiver, Victor Cruz, is listed as questionable. He didn't practice all week after spraining his ankle last Sunday.
The Giants, trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, have won three straight mainly on the strength of their defense.
The Giants are best in the NFL in the red zone, allowing only 11 touchdowns in 28 possessions (39.3 percent).
They're also ninth best at stopping the run, limiting opponents to an average of 93.9 yards. No team has run for 100 yards against New York in the last three games.
But the Giants may have their own matchup problem in the secondary trying to cover A.J. Green, the NFL's top pass catcher (59 catches, 15.2 avg., 3 TDs)
The Giants have used CB Janoris Jenkins against the opposition's top receivers most of this season. Jenkins faced Green last year when he played for the Rams, and Green had two TD catches.
"You have to make them (the Bengals) as one-dimensional as possible," linebacker Devon Kennard said. "We have to go in and stop them on first and second down when it comes to the run game and make them have to throw; put them in third-and-long situations and make it harder on them."
Giants LB and team captain Jonathan Casillas (calf) is listed as questionable. He missed Saturday's practice after working out in full pads Thursday and Friday.
History is against the Bengals on Monday night. The Bengals played two Monday night games last season and lost both, leaving them 11-22 all-time on Monday nights. But history doesn't matter.
"For as horrible of a start as we had, everything is still right in front of us," Peko said. "It's not going to be easy, but this is an important game and we know that in this locker room. This game is very huge for us and we've got to win it."