BY GEOFF HOBSON
If he's had a tougher season than this one, Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon doesn't know it.
With 53 of his 93 carries going for two yards or less, Dillon could be courting an endorsement from Target. In the season's first six games, about a quarter of his runs (28) have been for no gain or negative yardage.
His 3.4 yards per carry average is nowhere near the 4.6 career average he brought into the season. And it's not on the same planet as the 5.7 average he had at Washington or the 6.8 at Dixie Junior College.
"No. Never," said Dillon, asked if can ever remember not gaining four yards per carry. "And I'm not pointing fingers. I can rest at night knowing I'm doing my job. I can't do it all. All I know is I'm out there giving my full effort. I could lay down and rest knowing I gave a good 110 percent . Everything I'm getting is hard. But it's earned."
If anyone saw Dillon's extra-effort hurdle of Steelers cornerback Dewayne Washington Sunday, there's no questioning his heart is in the right place. Even if his elbow wasn't.
The working theory is with the Bengals' inexperienced passing game stalled, defenses are taking away the most proven and best threat by stacking eight and nine men at the line of scrimmage to stop Dillon.
"They're bringing everybody. Safeties are blitzing. What am I supposed to do?" Dillon asked. "You'll beat it every once in awhile, but nine out of 10 times they'll get you. They're going to get you."
Dilllon said the youth of the offense is "no excuse," and he's not looking for any. But foes are finding him.
Washington's play summarized this season's desire and frustration all in a 30-second film clip. With 5:36 left in the first half and the Bengals starting a drive on their own 15-yard line trailing, 7-0, Dillon swept to his left.
Washington flew up from his corner spot and upended Dillon a yard behind the line of scrimmage. But Dillon stunned the Steelers and never stopped running when his feet landed after going head-over-tea-kettle. He ripped off a 15-yard gain, but Pittsburgh challenged the ruling when it argued Dillon was down behind the line. . . .
Continued from Homepage
The officials reversed the call with an obscure rule that says if a ball carrier's elbow touches the ground, he's down.
Instead of a first-and-10 at the 30, it was second-and-11 from the 14 and the Bengals ended up punting just after the two-minute warning.
"I never heard of an elbow being down," said Dillon, who had some give-and-take with some Steelers as they watched the replay on the scoreboard. "I understand the knee is down, but I never heard of an elbow. I was telling (the Steelers), 'They cheated on that play. They robbed us.' You never know. That's a one-yard loss instead of a first down.
"Who wasn't there?" asked Dillon of the Steelers' scheme. "Their corners did a good job coming up and stopping us from getting around the edges."
Dillon admitted he was surprised when the Bengals spelled him with rookie Curtis Keaton for a series in the third quarter.
"I think everyone was a little surprised to be honest with you," Dillon said. "I was running hard out there, but they have to do what they have to do."
But Dillon is less tolerant of the argument the Bengals' offense is hampered by too much inexperience.
"If you weren't a good ballplayer, you wouldn't be here," Dillon said. "You're here to make plays and paid to make plays whether you've been here one year or 10 years. Saying you're young, that's just an excuse and I don't like to hear it."