Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Bengals getting the runaround


Opponents will continue to rush the ball until defense proves it can stop them

By Kevin Kelly
Enquirer staff writer

First was Curtis Martin in the season opener, followed by Jamal Lewis in Week 3.

For a Bengals defense ranked next to last in the NFL against the run - due in part to Martin's 196 yards and Lewis' 186 yards - the future offers few breaks.

Chris Brown, Clinton Portis, Duce Staley, Corey Dillon and Brian Westbrook are a sampling of the running backs Cincinnati is scheduled to face the remainder of the season.

"Each team has a good running back," Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton said. "But it still comes down to playing good defense."

The NFL of today teems with talented running backs of varying ages. And though that never changes, teams do appear to be placing more emphasis on the running game.

All in an apparent attempt to stay one step ahead of the opposition.

"It's kind of a cycle," Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said. "What ends up happening is offenses get set up to throw it, and everybody designs their defenses to stop the pass.

"So people come back and try to attack with the running game against those coverages set up to take away the pass."

Though rushing numbers are down slightly through Week 3 this season compared to 2003, teams became more run-reliant the past five seasons.

The league experienced increases in total rushes (plus 7.1 percent), total rushing yards (plus 14.2 percent) and average rushing yards per game (plus 10.7 percent) from 1999-2003.

Passing numbers subsequently dropped.

"If you don't play well, and if a team can keep running the ball on you, they'll do it," Thornton said. "It's nothing different. Teams are probably just having more success."

Already this season, 23 players have rushed for 100 or more yards in 30 games.

That is up considerably from last season when 13 players broke the century mark 18 times through the season's third week.

"Everybody tries to play to their strength," Bratkowski said, "and everybody knows if they can run it successfully, it will take a lot of pressure off their quarterback."

The Ravens employed that strategy Sunday.

With two of their top receivers out of the lineup because of injury, Lewis and Chester Taylor carried the ball 26 of 34 times and quarterback Kyle Boller threw 18 passes.

"You have to match your personnel to what their strengths are," Bratkowski said. "You'll see some teams that can't run it very well, but they throw the heck out of it because of their quarterback. You'll see some teams that run it a lot yet aren't very good throwing the ball."

Only the Colts, Patriots and Packers rank in the top 10 in the NFL in both rushing and passing.

Indianapolis is fourth in passing and seventh in rushing. New England is sixth in passing and eighth in rushing. Green Bay is eighth in passing and ninth in rushing.

"Eventually, in a few years, it will flip back around where everybody starts to try and stop the run," Bratkowski said. "And that will cause the passing to go up a little higher again."

Challenges ahead

When it comes to stopping the run, things won't get any easier for the Bengals' defense in the coming weeks. A look at some of the top running backs the team will face.

RB Team G Att. Yds. Avg. TDVs. Bengals
Chris Brown Titans 3 65 353 5.4 2Oct. 31
Clinton Portis Redskins 3 72 311 4.3 1Nov. 14
Duce Staley Steelers 3 62 249 4.0 0Sunday; Nov. 21
Corey Dillon Patriots 2 47 244 5.2 0Dec. 12
Brian Westbrook Eagles 3 42 232 5.5 0Jan. 2

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E-mail kkelly@enquirer.com




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