10-25-02, 5:05 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
When you've got a Pro Bowl running back like Eddie George, you've got to remind yourself every once in a while that you're a running team.
That's what George himself did a few weeks ago when he sat down the Titans' offensive line to show them tape of how they dominated the AFC back in '99 on the ground. The result was George's first 100-yard game of the season on 31 ride-your-back-carries.
"We kept hearing how bad our offensive line was and how we weren't doing this and that," George said. "I just wanted to remind them this is what we're capable of doing. This is what we've been able to do and this is what we have to get back to in order for us to be successful."
That's what Titans coach Jeff Fisher expects the Bengals to do Sunday with a Pro Bowl running back of their own in Corey Dillon. He expects them to do what they did the last time they were 0-6 at home, which was 31 games ago against Denver. The desperate Bengals committed to doing what they do best and ran it 37 times even though it was against the NFL's second-best run defense.
They were rewarded with a stunning 407 yards as part of Dillon's record 278-yard day, and Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson wouldn't mind showing his line the tape of the last nine games of the season that game spawned. He likes the idea of getting back to that heyday of the run, which kept the clock ticking, the game close, and the turnovers to a minimum.
"Traditionally, we have come out and said we're going to run the ball on this team regardless of what they're doing to stop the run," Anderson said. "And not let the
defense dictate to us. We dictate to the defense. I'm not telling the coaches what to run. I'm just like every other offensive lineman in the league. We all want to run the ball. There's nothing wrong with running it five straight times. We as a line have to step up and make those bocks."
Where has the tradition gone? It was there in the nine games after that record day, with the Bengals averaging 35 carries and 142 yards on the ground despite the NFL's worst pass offense.
Yet in the 22 games of the 2001 and 2002 seasons, the Bengals have averaged just 26 carries and 104 yards per game with pretty much the same passing numbers.
Have they forgot about Dillon in an attempt to balance the offense?
"Of course not," said fullback Lorenzo Neal, who has blocked for both Dillon and George. "How can you give Corey the ball when we're running the two-minute drill in the third quarter? There is nothing wrong with Corey or the running game. How can you run down 20 points at the half?"
Fisher had the same problem at the half in Oakland, down 31-7.
"We couldn't look our guys in the eyes and give the ball to Eddie in the second half," Fisher said.
And, really, what choice has offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski had but to throw with his team outscored, 123-17 in the first half?
"In the two closest games we've had," said center Rich Braham of the 156-yard day in Cleveland and the 173-yarder in Indianapolis, "we've run the ball well and we ran it until the end of the game. If you make a quick turnover and suddenly it's 17-0, you're out of your game plan."
Some would argue that the best way to keep Dillon in the game is keeping the game close by running more and passing less when the game is still in reach so you don't risk getting blown out if a couple of lower-percentage pass plays go the wrong way.
Take the Titans two weeks ago in their 23-14 win over Jacksonville. On their first possession, George carried six times on the 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
Take the Bengals against the Steelers two weeks ago. Dillon carried once on a seven-play drive that ended in a missed 46-yard field goal.
But quarterback Jon Kitna says it simply isn't that black-and-white because the Steelers had been hurt in the passing game.
"Teams had done things by spreading them out and that was a way to attack them," Kitna said. "If they aren't going to give you the run, it's hard to keep running it. The key for me is to keep the game close by not making mistakes like I did in that game."