BY GEOFF HOBSON
The big stats have always been these:
When running back Corey Dillon carries the football at least 22 times in a game, the Bengals are 10-2. When he gains more than 100 yards, Cincinnati wins more times than it loses at 7-6.
Last Sunday, history ruled. Dillon carried just 12 times for 41 yards and the Bengals scored just seven points against a Browns team Dillon ripped for 360 yards in two games last season.
Which is not lost on quarterback Akili Smith as he prepares for Jacksonville.
"You say it's a "Must Win,' " Smith said today before practice. "The situation this time is pretty much a 'Must CD,' situation. We've got to get CD going. I'll give him 30 plus (carries), but as a team we have to come through when the run is called. Talking to the guys, we're going to try and run the ball. Keep it balanced. You have to run the ball every week, not just because it's Jacksonville."
Some arm-chair guys could even be looking at Dillon's career yards per carry average and ask, "Does 4.6 multiplied by 3 equal a first down?"
Truth be told, Bengals coach Bruce Coslet loves to run the ball. That's how he became one of the top offensive coordinators in the game. He would like to run. But he would also like to make yards while doing it, which is a major reason Dillon only had the dirty dozen against Cleveland.
Coslet says the Bengals' meager production on first down curtailed the run. Before the last two throw-away series of the game, they averaged 2.4 yards on first down and it was pick your poison. They had 28 yards on nine first-down runs and 26 yards on 13 first-down passes.
After Dillon's two longest first-down runs of the first half (four and five yards), Smith threw back-to-back incompletions after each of them. But his best run, an 8-yarder, was wiped out because of a hold on left guard Scott Rehberg and was an example of the kind of plays that put the Bengals off the running game schedule.
"It's a test for all us," said Smith, not trying to pinpoint one facet. "Everybody has something to prove this Sunday. If they're not thinking that way, they should get out of the locker room. We got humiliated. We've got to show the NFL and the rest of the country who we really are."
There is sentiment within the club to get Dillon the ball more. But as for Dillon himself, he isn't pounding the table for more carries like he did last year.
He's looking at the carries he did get, not the ones he didn't, and said after today's practice, "It's not how many reps you get, it's what you do with them. That's the point. To execute on what we get. I'm not going to cry about carrying the ball. Whatever they give me, I'll try and make something happen."
But Dilllon knows where this team wants to go. It may be a passing league, but four of the NFL's current top eight rushers play for 2-0 teams.
"If we're going to be the ballclub we are, we've got to do the things that work," Dillon said. "And running it is one of the things."
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Dillon is uncomfortable when he hears things like "It's a Must CD week," only because he's got some people around him.
"I can't do everything by myself, and we're a tremendous offense when we get everyone the rock," Dillon said. "Peter (Warrick), (Ron) Dugans, (Tony) McGee, myself, and we've got a quarterback who can get it to us. We're dangerous when everyone touches it."
Asked how everyone can get a piece of one ball, Dillon suggested coaches find a way, "when your play is called and you make it work, regardless."
This is nothing new for Dillon. This is a guy who is just one of eight men to rush for more than 1,100 yards in his first three NFL seasons. He knows how big first down is. So does his linemen, like right tackle Willie Anderson: "The running game slows up the pass rush so much."
"We've got to come out and get four, five yards here and there," Dillon said. "Get us comfortable so we can run our plays and take it from there. I think every week we've got to emphasize the run. It's nothing new. No big deal. It opens everything else up."
Dillon had no problems with his left knee in practice today. He left Wednesday's practice when bursitis flared in his kneecap, but it's not related to the condition in which his kneecap has occasionally slid out of place.
"It's nothing," Dillon said. "It's not even worth checking on twice."
The Bengals hope his rushing stats on Sunday are.