Run-game revival will help Bengals, Dalton

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
11:06
PM ET
SAN DIEGO -- On a wall inside meeting rooms used by members of the Cincinnati Bengals' offense, three simple numbers are posted. Behind them lies an unspoken, but well understood meaning for the men who walk by them every day.

"150-plus."

That's the yardage target for the Bengals' rushing attack every game. Next to that number on the wall, a string of unmet expectations from earlier in the season have been spelled out. But when the Bengals glance at the number Monday morning, there won't be any disappointment. They will see something they had only seen twice before this year: a "yes."

"All we've been seeing is, 'No, no, no, no, yes, no, no, no,'" offensive tackle Anthony Collins said inside the visitors locker room at Qualcomm Stadium. "This time it's going to feel good going into our meeting room and seeing a 'Yes.' It's going to feel real good."

The Bengals rushed for 164 yards against the San Diego Chargers. It was only the third time they had gone beyond the 150-yard mark this season.

If they are going to experience the deep postseason run many have been anticipating since last offseason, the Bengals are going to need more feelgood Mondays and more yeses on their meeting room walls.

How will they do that? By focusing on having the type of run-game revival that led to Sunday's important 17-10 win on the road over the Chargers.

[+] EnlargeBenJarvus Green-Ellis
Stan Liu/USA TODAY SportsBehind BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Bengals racked up 164 yards on the ground against the Chargers.
"We have to be able to establish the run out there because it's getting to be that time of the year," running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis said. "It's colder and things like that and the weather might play a factor down the stretch, especially in the AFC North and in Cincinnati."

For a team with a quarterback that has been as inconsistent as Andy Dalton, it also is getting to that time of year when the coaching staff realizes that perhaps it's time to forgo certain elements of the passing game in an effort to ride the running game. Since the swoon that Dalton fell into following a red-hot October appears to be continuing, the Bengals would be well served to help their struggling quarterback by letting Collins, Green-Ellis and the rest of those responsible for the ground attack to take over.

For three weeks, some thought Dalton might finally be considered among the elite quarterbacks in the league.

But the past four weeks have shown just how far away from that he remains.

Just consider his latest outing.

After committing to running the ball on their final drive of the first quarter, the Bengals decided to test out Dalton's arm in the second quarter. What they got were three incompletions in five attempts, an interception and a 21.2 first-half passer rating. The passing game wasn't working.

Following halftime, the Bengals resumed a run-pass balance that helped free up A.J. Green for a 21-yard touchdown reception. That play was the difference in the win.

Of the 17 offensive plays Cincinnati had in the third quarter, nine were runs. Of the seven plays that resulted in first downs in the quarter, four came on runs.

"We knew that running the football was going to be important," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We did a very good job of that."

Green-Ellis paced the rushing attack, grinding out 92 yards on 20 carries.

Part of what helped the prolific rushing attack was the fact that Cincinnati was forced to move left offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth to the inside following the first-quarter injury to left guard Clint Boling. Much like the Bengals did when Boling went down briefly in a game at Cleveland this season, they made up for his absence Sunday by sliding Whitworth over and moving Collins into Whitworth's tackle slot. Right tackle Andre Smith, who had been benched in favor of Collins for an unspecified reason, came into the game after the injury and played his normal position.

It's hard to call what could be a significant knee injury a blessing in disguise but in this case, it might be. With Boling out, the large and athletic Whitworth was forced into pulling and serving as a lead blocker for Green-Ellis.

"With him pulling, it was just like an old-school game," Green-Ellis said. "When he pulls, you can't even seen the linebacker. So you just kind of pick your poison with where you go."

Whitworth's blocks and Green-Ellis' runs freed Dalton to connect with receivers on play-action and in running-down situations. After taking the ball for the final five-minute drive, the Bengals came out looking like they would run on first down. Instead, they sent Green down the sideline for a 28-yard catch. Dalton, who had 41 yards passing at the half, ended with 190 yards in the game.

Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey understands how a balanced offense will better challenge opposing defenses.

"It's tough. They're not one-dimensional," he said. "In this league, offensive players are so good that you need to make offenses one-dimensional for you to have a chance to win. It's tough when you're hitting on all cylinders like our offense. When they're running the ball, if you're an opposing defense, you don't know what's coming. It's tough. You never want to be in that position."

As an offense, it doesn't get much better than what the Bengals showcased Sunday. Keep moving the ball with the run and countering with key passes, and the Bengals might be saying "Yes" for more reasons than one.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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