NFL Wire News

Ground game getting to where Bengals want it

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CINCINNATI — Fourteen weeks into the season the Cincinnati Bengals running game is finally starting to look the way Hue Jackson had imagined it would when he was hired as offensive coordinator Jan. 9.

“Sometimes it takes a little time,” Jackson said. “It’s been a long process, but I think we’re getting there. Do I think we’re there yet? No. You guys will know when we’re there because everybody will feel it and see it. I saw a glimpse of it a week ago, and we’ve just got to keep at it.”

The Bengals rushed 45 times for 244 yards in the 30-0 rout at Cleveland on Sunday. That was four days after Jackson said he was not only promoting Jeremy Hill ahead of second-year back Giovani Bernard as the starter, but installing the rookie as his feature back and scrapping the shared-load approach.

“We weren’t running the ball the way I think we should, and the way I think we can,” Jackson said. “I expect to be one of the most dominant running teams in football. I said that when I took this job, and I hadn’t made good on that promise.

“Sometimes you have to go back and look in the mirror and remember what you said to yourself and go back and do it,” he continued. “In order to do that, you have to make some decisions and we made them and I think we’re heading in that direction.

“And by no means is that slighting any other guy — not even to Gio or to any of the linemen. I just think at some point in time to get where I think we need to be at this time of year there were some decisions that needed to be made and we made them.”

With the 244 yards against the Browns, the Bengals jumped from rushing for 121.5 yards per game and ranking 10th in the league to averaging 130.3, which ranks sixth.

In addition to the change at running back, Jackson made a midgame switch at right tackle when he sent Eric Winston in for Clint Boling, who slid back to his regular spot at left guard. Boling had played parts of the last two games at tackle after starter Andre Smith suffered a season-ending triceps injury at Houston.

“I remember at some point there in the third quarter I told Paul (Alexander, offensive line coach), ‘Put him in, let’s go,'” Jackson said. “That’s what you do. Sometimes you get a feel for things, whether it’s been Jeremy, whether it’s been Winston, whatever it is you have to have that feel.”

They may need more than a feel Monday night against a Denver defense that ranks second in the league against the rush, allowing 71.6 yards per game.

“They are outstanding,” Jackson said. “They have two of the best defensive ends in football. I shouldn’t call Von Miller an end because he plays outside linebacker. DeMarcus Ware is as fine a football player as there is in pro football. Terrance Knighton is Man Mountain Dean. This guy is huge. (Derek) Wolfe, the kid from UC (University of Cincinnati), is playing good for them.

“They are a good defensive football team,” Jackson continued. “They are as good as we play. At the end of the day, it’s a great challenge. That’s what this time of year is going to be about. It’s not going to be anybody we can roll the ball out there and play and they aren’t going to give us a game. We are going to have to go earn our way, we’ll have to go play as good as we can play to have a chance to win the game.”

The Bengals will clinch a playoff berth with a win and could be in position to win the division if Baltimore (at Houston) and Pittsburgh (vs. Kansas City) lose Sunday.

Denver has already wrapped up the AFC West, but the Broncos are still playing for a first-round bye and possibly home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they can win one more than New England does during the final two weeks.

–This is the 28th regular-season meeting between the Bengals and Broncos. The Broncos lead the series 19-8, including 7-6 in games played in Cincinnati. The Bengals’ .296 winning percentage against Denver is their third worst against any opponent (.250 vs. Miami and San Francisco). One of the most memorable games in series history was 10 years ago. After a 12-year absence from Monday Night Football, the Bengals returned to the big show with a 23-10 victory against Denver in Marvin Lewis’ second season as head coach. It also was Carson Palmer’s second win as a starting quarterback.

–Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is having arguably the best season of his nine-year career, but he said he doesn’t expect to see his name pop up when the Pro Bowl rosters are announced Tuesday.

“I don’t know how many tackles haven’t given up a sack all season, but I doubt it’s many,” Whitworth said. “I don’t worry about that. It’s fine.”

According to ProFootballFocus.com, Whitworth leads all tackles with a 98.5 grade in pass-blocking efficiency. He has allowed nine pressures on 463 pass-block snaps, and in eight of the 14 games he has allowed zero pressures.

“It’s not a contest for me to get to the Pro Bowl,” Whitworth said. “My job is to get my team to the playoffs and win a playoff game. I know if this thing was done off of film and tape I’d be in it.”

Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware, whom Whitworth will be going against Monday night, said Whitworth is worthy.

“He’s one of the top tackles in the league,” Ware said. “It doesn’t matter if he makes a wrong step or if he does it the right way, he’s not going to let you get to the quarterback. When you think about the top tackles, they’ll say another name. They usually don’t say him. But he’s one of those guys who needs to be put in the echelon with the top tackles in the league.”


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