Bengals won't rush to judgment

Brian Leonard

Two of their top four rushers are quarterbacks. Their two longest runs are by quarterbacks. Take those away and the Bengals are averaging 2.5 yards per lug. They are ranked 27th in NFL preseason rushing and the two running backs that are supposed to carry them through the body bags of the AFC North are going to go into the season with a total of seven carries.

The Runs of August have been silenced.

Yet what exactly is real and what is illusion? The preseason is an enigma wrapped in a stat sheet inside a playbook.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has become a team leader with calm and reason during tumult and tragedy and so he offered this Friday, the day after Bengals running backs had 32 yards on 14 carries in the 27-13 loss to the Packers at Paul Brown Stadium:

"This team isn't defined by that," Whitworth said. "I think this team is talented in a lot of other areas. I don't think we're hitting the panic button. If it were '09, yeah, maybe we were hitting the panic button because that's the only thing we did. This isn't '09 anymore. This is the 2012 team.

"Last year we went to the playoffs and weren't the greatest running team in America. The team that won the Super Bowl (the Giants) was 32nd in rushing. We're not aiming to be the best rushing team this year. We're aiming to be the team that scores the most points at the end of the game. We just want to clean things up, do it efficiently and throw the ball also. Throw it efficiently."

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden sounded a bit more concerned, but he and Whitworth echoed the challenge of meshing preseason agendas with regular-season goals.

The Bengals believe the running game has struggled for typical preseason reasons. Injuries, changing personnel and little game-planning.

For instance, backup running back Aaron Brown played with the first unit on the first series of the second half Thursday and didn't pick up the third-and-seven safety blitz that caused quarterback Andy Dalton's incompletion and painful hit.

Brown got cut Friday morning.

"We have to figure out what we're good at. I know we're trying a couple of different things up there," Gruden said coming off the field after Friday's walkthrough. "Until we master one we can't use them all. So we probably have to settle down a little bit and focus on a couple of aspects of it and go from there.

"It's a matter of how many plays you get to practice. You practice on the pulling plays, those gap plays, inside zone, outside zone, all the draws and all that good stuff, and the next thing you know practice is over and you didn't get a look at all of them. We just have to be able to hone in on the looks of the plays we want to run and try not to run them into unblockable fronts and go from there."

For instance, Cincinnati's best run Thursday night came off a power play, a form of the counter trey in which left guard Clint Boling pulled and right guard Kevin Zeitler double-teamed and running back Brian Leonard plowed through for 12 yards.

For a variety of reasons, that's the only power play Gruden called. A big reason is that he says the key to power plays is holding the edges and he was without his best blocking tight end. Plus he's trying to walk the line of finding out about as many plays and players as he can without tipping his hand for the regular season.

Still …

"We should be better than we are. Our starting offensive linemen are playing and we have backs that have played long enough to be better," he said.

Yet even though much of the struggles have come behind the first offensive line, the Bengals haven't been exactly set up to smash it. Of their two lead backs, only BenJarvus Green-Ellis has carried the ball and not since hurting his foot in the opener. Bernard Scott (hand) may not play in the real opener. Jermaine Gresham, the team's best blocking tight end, won't play in the last two preseason games but will in Baltimore in the first game.

"Jermaine is a big part of the running game. When he's not in there the point of attack isn't quite what it usually is," Gruden said. "Donald Lee is a good second tight end, a good move tight end, but as far as being an on-the-ball tight end it's probably not his forte, so that's a little bit of it."

And while the Bengals have been stymied running the ball on the goal line this preseason, they haven't used their Jumbo package. They didn't even use it in the intrasquad scrimmage. So when running back Cedric Peerman tried to go left on second-and-goal from the one on Thursday, he was trying to do it behind 250-pound backup fullback James Develin and 250-pound rookie tight end Orson Charles instead of 6-9, 322-pound tackle Dennis Roland and 260-pound starting fullback Chris Pressley.

Loss of two.

"I know we're not showing all our cards. It's preseason. We're not doing everything we plan to do in the regular season. No team does," Whitworth said. "I'm sure there are going to be adjustments and things that can change and there are some things that we will do. That's how the preseason goes.

"We're missing the two guys that are going to run the ball a lot. It's an adjustment. It's the preseason. We'll see how the preseason goes. And we'll go with it as we are and hope we get back on the same track and do things how we want."

While Whitworth disagreed with the coaches that there was a lack of energy Thursday (Lewis called it "zest" Friday), he did agree the Packers loss could be a wakeup call.

"This is probably a great lesson for us having a young team and the way things were going," Whitworth said. "They were going a bit too easy, so it's good to get a kick in the pants. Guys were out there doing some extra work, refocusing and knowing they have to go a little bit extra every week."

Gruden says that was pretty obvious.

"The good thing is that everyone had their hand in it and we can all learn from this that we're not a good enough football team to come out flat and uninspired," he said. "That's something hopefully Monday Night Football will take care of."

Whitworth doesn't think it's going to take the TV lights. He thinks the team will be OK with a script and the same cast of characters.

"We've got a lot of different things in," Whitworth said. "I think trying to find the one thing we're really good at is going to help us be better. Also when we get our backs back and just get a chance to all be together, it will be nice."

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