Bengals seek key to run game

BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Call Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis "Piano Man" when he closed up the place Monday.

As the last Bengal to leave Paul Brown Stadium after the players and coaches had picked clean Sunday's 17-13 loss to the Dolphins, he compared the running game to playing the piano.

"One key this time, another key the next time. We just have to develop that consistency and just the will and the want to and just want to be great at it," Green-Ellis said after he emerged from extra work upstairs. "That comes from spending more time at the office and spending more time in the weight room, running extra after practice, whatever you've got to do in order to fix our problems and get better."

After a grueling 14 yards on nine carries, Green-Ellis also dealt with the news that running back Bernard Scott is lost for the season with what is believed to be an ACL injury. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's preseason plan of the Bengals changing up the interior work of BJGE with Scott's speed on the perimeter never came to pass because of Scott's nagging early-season injuries.

Now this makes Green-Ellis the unquestioned lead back, but head coach Marvin Lewis looks at Scott's eight carries and Green-Ellis's 91 and says what's new? Lewis said Monday the Bengals are preparing for Sunday's game in Cleveland (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) the same way they did the three games Scott missed, although Gruden said he'd try to get special teams ace Cedric Peerman more touches.

Sixth-rounder Daniel Herron is staying on the practice squad for now. He's not much of a changeup since he and BJGE have similar bread-and-butter styles.

"(Herron) is developing. It's just hard right now, practice squad you don't get a lot of reps with our stuff," Gruden said. "He's mainly doing cards, running between the tackles and they are drawing up a defense to stop it. So he doesn't get great looks and you can't really see him do what he can do. He's got a ways to go. If we have to bring him up later or something happens to somebody else, hopefully he's been attentive and he'll be ready to go also."

In Green-Ellis, the Bengals have the consummate pro. Plus, Lewis also looks at the $3 million per year deal they gave him and sees a guy that can handle a bell cow's diet of 300 carries even though his career high is 229 in 2010. He's already halfway to last season's 181.

"That's one reason why we got Ben, to have the ability to do that," Lewis said. "We saw Ben to have an opportunity to compete with Bernard (Scott) to be our lead back, and whoever else we had at the time. That was the plan."

Third-down back Brian Leonard has been solid in his role for the past four seasons, but he hasn't carried more than four times in a game since he had 36 yards on 13 carries to complement Scott's 119-yard effort in Oakland in 2009. Peerman has carried just 10 times in his three seasons here and may be best known from scrimmage as Carson Palmer's last Bengals target on an incomplete fourth-down pass with 10 seconds left in the 2010 season finale in Baltimore.

But the 5-10, 211-pound Peerman is an interesting sort. He's not particularly elusive, but he's got excellent straight-line speed and does own the longest run from scrimmage this year with a 48-yard sprint around the right side off a fake punt in Jacksonville.

"Leonard's been good. He is a steady guy. And Cedric I think with more opportunities will prove he belongs also," Gruden said. "He's got great vision. He just has had limited opportunities. It will be good for him to get some more opportunities see if he can handle it and make some big plays for us."

The Bengals seemed to have decided they need more than a shakeup of personnel to revive a running game that except for a promising first game in Baltimore has struggled and is reflected in the third-down quagmire. After Sunday's 2-for-14 effort, it is now at 7-for-33 in the last three games.

Green-Ellis, who arrived from New England with a Plymouth Rock-solid career numbers of four yards per carry and no career fumbles, is at just 3.3 with three fumbles after five games and everyone has concluded that everyone needs to pick it up. When Miami dared the Bengals to run into a two-deep zone, they couldn't get a run of more than three yards in the last three quarters until the end of the game.

"It's a little bit of everybody. Running backs around the league average touch is probably down a little bit," Gruden said. "Guys who have a higher average usually have one or two runs in a game that are 30 yards or more. We are just not getting any of the breakaway runs. We are not expecting every run to be 10, 12, 14 yards, but if you give the guy the ball 10-15 times or more a game you expect one of those runs to hit for 20-plus. We haven't had any that I can think of except for B-Scott's yesterday."

True. Scott's 29-yarder is not only the longest against the Dolphins this season, but it is Cincinnati's longest conventional run. Green-Ellis's longest run is 19. The Bengals may have signed BJGE, in part, for his short-yardage reliability, but they also think he can give them some of those pops once in a while.

"He's had some breakaway runs; we just have to do a better job for his blocking. A couple times the safety came down there late and we couldn't get him with the receiver and the safety came down there and made two great plays on a run for a loss," Gruden said. "That was just a bad schematic play. Wasn't anything on BenJarvus. They had one more guy than we can block and that guy made the play."

So after Monday's regular meetings, Green-Ellis went upstairs to do some more work. He stopped in to see Lewis, as well as running backs coach Jim Anderson.

"That's just what you do. I was talking to Coach Lewis and watching film and trying to put in extra time to see what we can do to make things go better," he said. "We all had to get on the same page. The thing about football, it's 11 guys. It's not just one person. The thing about running the football, it takes 11 guys doing the right thing. You can have nine guys doing the right thing and two guys don't do the right thing and it's a terrible play. That's why running the football is unique, because it takes 11 guys doing it right at the same time."

Here are three Green-Ellis runs from Sunday:

» On second-and-16 from the Bengals 32 on their first series: Dolphins end Cameron Wake slides across right tackle Andre Smith's face and plugs himself in what is developing into a big hole to stop BJGE for no gain.

» On first-and-15 from the Dolphins 31 on the next series, defensive tackle Randy Starks beats left guard Clint Boling before BJGE can get going for no gain.

» On first-and-10 from the Bengals 20 with 8:35 left in the third quarter: Wide receiver Armon Binns tries to run inside to fend off blitzing safety Reshad Jones, but he can't get there in time to make a difference and Jones overpowers him and BJGE for a two-yard loss.

"Sometimes maybe it's our left tackle didn't cut off the backside end. Sometimes the guard didn't come off on the 3-technique powerful enough," Gruden said. "It's something different every time. You can't just say it's the back, the line, the receiver; it's somebody different. Usually it's one guy that is glaring."

Green-Ellis comes from what used to be Tom Brady's pass-first offense, and the 91 carries is more than any five-game stretch he's had in the pros. But he has produced with such workloads. In a 90-carry stretch from Nov. 14-Dec. 12, 2010, he had 401 yards, 101 more than he's got now. And in this stretch last year, from Sept. 18-Oct. 16, he averaged 4.3 yards per on 84 carries.

"With passing the football, you could have somebody run the wrong route, and as long as you picked it up you could maybe hit another receiver," Green-Ellis said. "But the running game doesn't work like that. You've got to have everyone working hard and doing the same things and seeing things through the same set of eyes. That's the way we've got to be. We've got to continue to work hard from a running back standpoint, offensive line, wide receivers, quarterbacks, everyone. We have to see things through the same set of eyes in order to eliminate the mistakes that are killing us."

Green-Ellis isn't used to losses. The Pats lost just five games in his last two seasons in Foxboro and at 3-2 with the Browns up next, he's thinking about what waits in Cleveland. When the Bengals won last month, he had 75 yards on 21 carries and his long of 19. That probably would have been good enough to beat the Dolphins.

"It starts on Wednesday when we come in for practice. To get ahead of the Cleveland Browns, we have to outwork them before the work week starts," he said. "We go to practice on Wednesday, but we're in there today, we're in here tomorrow. Make sure you are two steps ahead of them.

"We need to be watching film, seeing what we can get better on, and watching film on them, obviously to learn some tips and techniques and hopefully by Sunday we will have outworked them to the point we know them better than they know themselves."

The film shows that the Giants ran amuck last week against the Browns with 243 rushing yards, 200 by Ahmad Bradshaw on 30 carries. The Piano Man expects to be practicing another set on Tuesday, his day off.

"It's like a piano. That's part of football. That's the beauty of coming to work every day," he said. "You get to fix those things. You'll come to work the next day and try to work on that and then you try to go out there and improve it the next Sunday in the game."

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