A running difference

BY GEOFF HOBSON

It was a tough day for the Bengals to watch the Ravens beat them, 27-7 Sunday here at Paul Brown Stadium before 54,759 fans.

On a day Cincinnati deactivated a first-round pick (defensive end Reinard Wilson in 1997) and this year's second-round pick (cornerback Mark Roman), Baltimore stifled the Bengals with a defense of four first-round picks and one second-round pick drafted since 1996.

Meanwhile, the Bengals' last two first-round picks, quarterback Akili Smith and receiver Peter Warrick, continue to struggle in the league's last-rated passing game that looked confused much of the day.

Sunday's talk was how the Ravens broke their touchdown drought of 21 straight quarters.

But another drought lives. Smith hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in 23 straight quarters. In fact, the only Bengals touchdown Sunday came when Warrick took a snap at quarterback and swept right behind pulling right tackle Willie Anderson for four-yard touchdown run that made it 24-7.

"You can't be one dimensional," said Bengals running back Corey Dillon after following the third best back-to-back rushing games in NFL history with just 23 yards on 16 carries.

"You've got to have both aspects of the offense running. You've got to hit some passes and you've got to burn them with the run. You can't just try to run the ball. Especially on this defense."

The Bengals wanted to establish Dillon and his cutbacks. But the Raven defense snuffed out the cutbacks and allowed their No. 1 pick this year, running back Jamal Lewis, to dominate the clock with 109 yards on 22 carries.

In running to his second 100-yard day against Cincinnati this season (and the Ravens' fourth in the last six games against Cincinnati), Lewis surprised the Bengals early with some cutbacks of his own. P>**

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"He didn't show much cutbacks on film," said Bengals defensive lineman John Copeland. "With everybody going up field, it's hard to find the ball when he cuts back."

Bengals inside linebacker Takeo Spikes thought his guys were overanxious early in the game.

"Guys were bouncing out of their gaps trying to make something happen and I did it once," said Spikes, who also took blame for Lewis getting loose on a 19-yard screen pass. "I was trying to do too much."

The Ravens allowed no cutbacks. In fact, they allowed nothing. In fact, they allowed less than nothing. On Dillon's last eight carries, he lost seven yards.

The game's defining play came on fourth-and-1 from the Bengals' 38 early in the fourth quarter and showed how Cincinnati has had trouble lately matching up against the Ravens in both trenches.

Baltimore's huge free-agent defensive tackles, Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams, simply blew up the middle of the Bengals offensive line, and Dillon lost a yard.

"That tells you right there," Dillon said. "It wasn't a good day. . .That shows you how good they are. . .They have some great players over there. They've got two big boys in the middle and they want to funnel everything to those all-star linebackers. It's tough when you can't get to the line of scrimmage. I would have loved to have run for 200 yards. That was just impossible today."

Part of the reason it was impossible is because the Ravens took away Dillon's cutbacks by blitzing cornerbacks and safeties against a passing game that has not completed a 20-yard pass to a wide receiver in the last three games.

"They were keeping people in the box," Anderson said. "They were aware of Corey's cutbacks and they were filling those holes."

Asked if Baltimore sat nine or 10 players at the line of scrimmage, Dillon said, "It seemed like all of them were in the box . . .They were blitzing. They were doing a good job on the cutbacks."

The Bengals didn't have as much luck with Lewis' cutbacks, especially in the first half when he rang up 82 of his yards. The Bengals adjusted and held him to 27 yards on 10 carries in the second half, but it was too late.

"I remember one play where one of their receivers went after (free safety) Darryl Williams' legs and took him out," said middle linebacker Armegis Spearman. "And he's our cutback guy, so that was a tough play for us."

Dillon wasn't as frustrated as he was after the Sept. 24 debacle in which he had nine yards on 12 carries and stomped off the field after one run.

"I kept my composure," Dillon said.

Maybe because he regards Baltimore as the NFL's best defense. Probably because he averages 49 yards for his seven starts against Baltimore and 85 against everyone else.

"They showed why they're No. 1 today," Dilllon said. "You make mistakes against a defense like that and you pay a price."

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