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Bengals try to stretch to the numbers


Kheeston Randall

Updated: 6:45 p.m.

The Ravens, at 3-5, are going to be just as desperate as the 4-4 Dolphins were Thursday night in Miami when the Bengals go on the road Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) to Baltimore.

But at 6-3 the Bengals are desperate, too, and right end Michael Johnson doesn't mind telling you why.

"Because we just lost on a safety in overtime on the road to a team that we should have beat," Johnson said. "We've got too much talent on the team to have those lulls like we had. We're going to bounce back and we're going to be alright."

The Bengals are 6-3 and with a two-game lead over the Browns, a 2 1/2-game lead over the Ravens, and still dealing from a position of strength in the AFC North. But they are also in good enough shape to make a run for the AFC's second seed behind the 9-0 Chiefs. Among the teams with winning records behind Kansas City, the Bengals have the easiest remaining schedule when it comes to straight numbers.

The final seven Bengals opponents have a combined winning percentage of .404, followed by the 5-4 Jets (.448), the 6-2 Colts (.474), the 7-2 Patriots (.482), and the 7-1 Broncos (.596).

For the first time since left tackle Andrew Whitworth has been here since 2006, the Steelers are in last place in the North this late in the season. For the first time in Ravens head coach John Harbaugh's six seasons the Ravens are under .500 at mid-year.

"It doesn't surprise me as much as I really believe right now in the NFL, there's an awesome parity across the league," Whitworth said this week. "The teams that are 2-5 and 3-4, they're inches away from being as good as the other teams that are 5-2. It's just to me, this is without a doubt across the league the best teams are - every team's got something that makes them a really tough team. I think that's why you've seen a lot of really close games and a lot of nailbiters. And it's hard to predict who is winning every week. I think there's a lot of parity in the league right now."

RUN SURPRISE: Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have stressed running the ball for a variety of reasons, stemming from the fact that they had a young quarterback paired with a top five defense in 2008 and 2009, along with the drafting of the remarkable Ray Rice in '08. In the three previous seasons Baltimore has ranged from 10th to 14th in the NFL rushing the ball (when the Bengals ranged from 27th to 18th), but the Ravens come into Sunday's game ranked 29th and the Bengals 19th.

With left guard Kelechi Osemele on injured reserve, Harbaugh hinted he may rotate at that spot. At a news conference Monday he indicated he felt his passing game needs to pick up the pace against defenses that are focusing on the run. He said that's what the Browns did in Cleveland last Sunday when Rice and Bernard Pierce could combine for only 28 yards on 17 carries.

"They're playing us with seven people in the box against a spread formation. That is single-high. That's Cover 3 and Cover 1 – that's what we're getting. We're getting some off, we're getting some press. That's a run defense," Harbaugh said. "So, Cleveland played us in a run defense pretty much the whole game. We've got to get them out of that run defense. That's our job. And to do that, we've got to be good and precise in the pass game. We've got to open up that coverage a little bit and force them to back off. We did that at times and other times we didn't. We certainly didn't do it enough because they stayed in single-high pretty much the whole game."

NEXT MAN UP: The Bengals went to the next man up Tuesday when they signed former Dolphins draft pick Kheeston Randall, a day after he worked out with former Raiders defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi at Paul Brown Stadium.

Both fit the guidelines the Bengals sought to replace injured defensive tackle Geno Atkins on the active roster. They were in a training camp and had a preseason this year and were in good enough shape that they've got a chance to help Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Baltimore if need be.

Bilukidi, a Canadian citizen, had his contract voided by the NFL because of paperwork. The 6-5, 309-pound Randall, a seventh-round pick in 2012 out of Texas, played in all five of Miami's 2013 preseason games before he was waived at the 53-man roster cut. He played in 12 games last season with eight tackles.

Randall, a Beaumont, Texas product, had been projected as a fourth- or fifth-rounder after starting 35 games for the Longhorns with 98 tackles and four sacks.

At 24, Randall brings some youth and run-stuffing size to a spot where Domata Peko and Brandon Thompson need to catch their breaths on first and second down in case they need to work on third down. The biggest decision for the Bengals this week isn't going to be how they spell Peko and Thompson on run downs, but who they use at tackle in passing situations and that could be any of the defensive linemen they already have.


» Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green comes into the game leading the NFL in receiving yards with 862 and a fifth straight 100-yarder gives him not only the Bengals record for consecutive 100-yard games but also the most in a season with six. Carl Pickens had four straight in 1994, starting with quarterback Jeff Blake's second NFL start.

Both had 11-catch games with Green grabbing 26 for 501 yards and two TDs for 19.3 yards per his four games while Pickens went 27-528 (19.6) for five TDs.

Green and Pickens have two seasons of five 100-yard games and Bengals all-time receiving leader Chad Johnson did it three times.

Johnson is the only Bengal to lead the NFL in receiving yards with 1,369 yards in '06. Green is on pace to break Johnson's club record of 1,440 with 1,532.

» The only game Green has missed in his career is a 2011 loss in Baltimore, and in last season's finale at PBS when everything was locked up he came out early with just two catches for 26 yards. In the other two games he has a combined seven catches for 96 yards and is looking for his first TD vs. Baltimore.

» Quarterback Andy Dalton is also looking to put up better numbers against Baltimore as he bids to beat a Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the sixth straight time. In four games against Baltimore he's thrown double the picks (four) than TDs (two) with a passer rating of 67.8. But he goes in with a 92 passer rating, third best in the AFC behind Peyton Manning (119.4) and Philip Rivers (106.5).

» Here's Dalton compared to Ravens Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco this season: He's got 16 TDs-10 INTs up against Flacco's 10 TDs-9 INTs. He's completed 64.8 percent of his passes on 215 completions out of 332 attempts for 7.8 yards per attempt.

Flacco has completed 59.4 percent of his passes (184-310) for 7 yards per attempt to go with his 79.3 rating.

» But Flacco has played pretty well vs. Dalton. Take away that preseason game in the finale of 2012 and he's thrown five TDs against one pick since '11 against the Bengals, hitting 71 percent of his passes for 9.3 yards per throw.

Rice has also come up big against the Green-Dalton Bengals in the three games that mattered. Two of them have been 100-yarders and he's averaged 6.7 yards per his 54 carries.

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