Bengals finally get running game moving

The Bengals’ offense is developing into a lot more than just

Dalton-to-Green, one of the main reasons they’re back in the

playoff chase.

Finally, they’ve figured out how to run the ball.

Cincinnati has won three lopsided games in a row largely because

the running game has finally gotten in gear. After struggling to

find running room for the first half of the season, BenJarvus

Green-Ellis has put together 100-yard rushing games the last two

weeks.

Green-Ellis ran for a season-high 129 yards during a 34-10 win

over the Raiders on Sunday that included the two longest runs of

his career – 48 and 39 yards.

The difference is noticeable.

”Confidence plays a big role,” offensive coordinator Jay

Gruden said. ”Those guys love to run the ball and it takes the

pressure off the quarterback. When you have success running the

ball, guys come off (the snap) harder.

”You can see our running game fluctuates from week to week, but

they are buying into the system and doing a great job.”

The Bengals (6-5) head to San Diego this weekend trying to stay

in the mix for a playoff spot. They’re tied with Pittsburgh for the

AFC’s second wild card, although the Steelers won their

head-to-head meeting at Paul Brown Stadium this season.

It should be a much tougher test in San Diego. The Bengals ran

for a season-high 189 yards overall in a 28-6 win over Kansas City,

which has only one victory all season. They followed that with 221

yards rushing against the Raiders, who have lost four straight and

given up the most points in the NFL.

The Chargers are tied for fifth-best run defense in the league,

along with the Steelers.

”We’ve got to keep this going,” quarterback Andy Dalton said.

”The running game has done a great job the last two weeks. We’ve

got to keep the balance.”

The run game has improved as the middle of the line has

developed.

The Bengals suffered two significant injuries on the line during

preseason. Left guard Travelle Wharton suffered a season-ending

knee injury during the first preseason game. Center Kyle Cook hurt

his right ankle in the final preseason game and needed surgery.

Rookie Kevin Zeitler was given the starting job at right guard in

preseason.

Cincinnati signed center Jeff Faine only 10 days before the

opener. When he suffered a hamstring injury, rookie Trevor Robinson

took over.

With all the changes, the running attack suffered. Green-Ellis

was held under 70 yards in five of the first eight games, forcing

Dalton to look for Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green more than the

Bengals would have liked.

”It is tough,” Zeitler said. ”We had to rely so much on our

pass game early and just defenses could focus on that area more.

But now that that’s going, it really helps open everything up and

the offensive output has gone up, especially during the win

streak.”

It’s helped that defenses are giving Green a lot of attention

lately, using a safety to help with double coverage instead of

bunching more players at the line to worry about the run.

Green-Ellis was able to break those long runs – backup Cedric

Peerman also had a 31-yard gain – because the Raiders’ secondary

was more worried about the pass.

Green still finished with 111 yards on only three catches.

”Guys have to respect A.J.,” Peerman said. ”He’s a phenomenal

playmaker. You throw the ball up to him, he’s going to come down

with it. That definitely helps us out in the running game. He’s

just done a phenomenal job.”

Gruden acknowledged it was difficult to keep calling runs plays

when they weren’t working in the first half of the season.

”Very tough,” Gruden said. ”The best thing is the last two

weeks, I think we’ve had one negative run. As long as we are

churning and getting two, three yards, it’s OK. And occasionally

pop a big one like we did (against Oakland).

”Keep the defense off-balance and if they want to load up to

stop the run – thank you! We’ll take some shots.”

NOTES: The Bengals made a pair of moves with their practice

squad on Tuesday, releasing C Scott Wedige and LB Ben Jacobs and

signing OT Dan Knapp and TE Bryce Davis. … The Bengals and

Steelers have comparable schedules for the last five weeks of the

season, playing the same three opponents and each other. The only

difference: Pittsburgh hosts Cleveland (3-8) while the Bengals play

at Philadelphia (3-8).