CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals’ running game still isn’t going anywhere.
They overhauled the offensive line and brought in BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the offseason, hoping for a more diverse approach. So far, it’s not working out that way.
The Bengals (3-3) rank 21st in the NFL in running the ball, forcing them to throw a lot more than they’d like. It’s also contributed to an inability to string together long drives — they’ve converted only 26.7 percent of third downs, worst in the league.
They’re waiting for the running game to get going.
“You never know,” said Green-Ellis, who hasn’t run for 100 yards this season. “Everything happens at different points in the season. We just all have to come together and continue to work at it and be consistent and be our own worst critics at times.”
It’s had problems right from the start.
The Bengals let Cedric Benson leave as a free agent, looking to get a more diverse running back for their West Coast offense. Both Green-Ellis and backup Bernard Scott were injured during training camp, preventing the Bengals from figuring out a rotation between them.
The offensive line also took several hits. Rookie Kevin Zeitler started at right guard in place of Bobbie Williams, who left as a free agent. Left guard Travelle Wharton tore up his right knee in the preseason opener, and center Kyle Cook suffered a significant ankle injury in the final one. The Bengals signed free agent center Jeff Faine only 10 days before the opener.
Everything in the running game was in flux and has yet to settle down.
“I think there’s a lot to it,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “It’s got to be executed better and we have to get on the same page. It’s looked good at times and it’s looked bad at times. The key is just finding a way for everybody to get on the same page, communicate a little better.
“It’s different. This is the first time we’ve been in a situation where all three guys interior-wise are new. So we’re learning to communicate together and figure those things out. That’s the key to the running game.”
The running game had an encouraging first half in Cleveland last Sunday, picking up 45 yards on 10 carries. In the second half, Green-Ellis was limited to 17 yards on six carries as the Browns pulled away to a 34-24 win.
The Browns took away the up-the-middle runs, and Cincinnati wasn’t able to get the ball outside.
“They jumped under a lot, really kind of gambled that we weren’t ever going to go outside with the football,” Whitworth said. “They jumped under everything and it kind of squeezed the interior of the line. They did a lot of that kind of stuff, which I thought was pretty unorthodox but it worked. It was timed up right and we missed out on a couple of opportunities to get the ball outside.”
Scott is their quickest running back and their best chance to get the ball outside, but has been unavailable. He hurt his right hand during training camp and missed the first two games. He played in two games, carried the ball eight times and tore up his left knee, ending the season.
Third-string running back Brian Leonard bruised ribs during the loss to Cleveland last Sunday and missed practice time during the week, another setback to the running game.
The Bengals are averaging 3.9 yards per carry, the same as last season. Green-Ellis is averaging only 3.4 yards per carry, after averaging 4 yards in four seasons with New England. He has eight catches in six games.
Green-Ellis thinks the preseason changes prompted by injuries affected the running game initially.
“Me missing a lot of time, almost the whole preseason, with Jeff showing up 10 days before the season, and everybody being new, that’s one thing,” he said. “But we’re into Week 7 and we’ve got to go out there and play well together and we have to gel here and gel quickly.”