Running Game Is A Powerful Weapon For Bengals
By Joe Sorensen
With another win under their belt, the Cincinnati Bengals are one game closer to clinching the AFC North title. With a record of 8-4 and only four games left, the Bengals currently hold a two-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Ravens. There were things from Sunday’s 17-10 win against the San Diego Chargers that showed both why they Bengals should be a playoff team and why they should not.
The defense has continued to make plays when they are needed the most. Against the Chargers, the defense forced three turnovers, including one interception of QB Philip Rivers. The front seven was able to sack Rivers twice, one of which announced the return of LB Rey Maualuga (10 tackles), who missed the past couple games due to injury. The Chargers were held to only 91 yards rushing and did not complete a pass play longer than 30 yards, a play that resulted in San Diego’s only touchdown of the day. These are elements of a playoff-worthy defense.
Another positive for the team is the emergence of a consistent running attack. RBs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard gained 149 rushing yards combined. This effort comes two weeks after they duo combined for 107 rushing yards against the Cleveland Browns. Since neither runner is considered a feature back in this offense, a joint effort of 100-plus yards is a positive sign. While the offensive line has helped produce a running game, they have also done a good job of protecting QB Andy Dalton. Against the Chargers, Dalton was not sacked. Dalton was able to drop back in the pocket 23 times without worrying about a pass rush.
While Dalton was able to stay off his back, he failed yet again to get the ball downfield. He did complete 14 of his passes, but only for 190 yards. The longest play of the day went for 50 yards when WR Andrew Hawkins (three catches for 66 yards) took a short pass and ran the rest of the way. This was a play that could have been just an 8-to-10 yard play had it not been for the effort of Hawkins. Otherwise, Dalton’s longest pass was a 28-yard reception by WR A.J. Green (five catches, 83 yards and a TD) during the fourth quarter.
Dalton needs to prove that he can get the ball down the field without turning the ball over. As the offense begins to develop a consistent running game, defenses will begin to crowd the box if they are not afraid of Dalton throwing it over their heads. The defense will get them into the playoffs, but it will be up to the offense to produce, if they wish to make it past the first round in the tough AFC.