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).