Dillon, George in PBS showcase

11-16-01, 7:15 p.m. Updated:
11-16-01, 10:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Corey Dillon always looks forward to a game against Eddie George.

"Two Clydesdales," Dillon called them Friday.

Asked who is the better running back (George has more yards but Dillon has more yards per carry), Dillon shrugged.

"I don't know," he said. ""I think that's a great comparison. It's a great compliment to me. He's a great talent. It's going to be two great athletes going at it and he'll be ready. He'll be prepared. I'll be able to watch him."

The two have been together at the last two Pro Bowls and Dillon and George found out they have more in common than size, speed, stats and paychecks.

"We've spent some time together in Hawaii. We practiced every day together," Dillon said. "We're a lot like. He's a relaxed guy. He low keys it. He doesn't talk about himself at all. He's a video game fanatic like me. We both enjoy talking about the non-football stuff."

Dillon has always had high regard for George on and off the field ("Eddie's a great person to be around. He gives off great vibes just being around him. A genuine classy guy"), which is why it meant so much for him to be paid in the same neighborhood.

That was the crux of Dillon's pitch for a new contract and when his five-year $26.1 million deal got secured in May, one of the most significant things to him was that the Bengals gave him more in the first year ($12.9 million) than George

($10.5 million), and more in the first three years ($18.65 million) than George ($17.6 million), and nearly the same (George gets $27 million) for five years.

The similarities stretch beyond pay stubs and video games. The 6-1, 225-pound Dillon, 27, is on pace to become the sixth running back in NFL history to start his career with five straight 1,000-yard seasons. After last season, George joined Eric Dickerson as the only backs to rush for 1,200 yards in their first five seasons.

And if George is Tennessee's thoroughbred, then Dillon is the Bengals' steed. Cincinnati is 13-8 when Dillon rushes for 100 yards and 16-5 when he carries 22 times. The Titans are 24-5 when George runs for 100 yards and 24-2 when he carries 27 times.

"We're both big, we've got speed, and we try to run over you and away from you," Dillon said. "We do a lot of things that are similar."

The biggest difference, of course, is that Dillon has fullback Lorenzo Neal this year, the man George had the previous two seasons. A big reason why Dillon is on pace to gain 1,366 yards and George 888?

"I'll take that any day," said Dillon of Neal's presence. "That's only a plus for us."

Neal has been hesitant to draw comparisons, but he thinks Dillon might be a little faster and more liable to break a long one. George might be a little more powerful. But Neal knows they have the same competitiveness that makes them treat each practice like a game.

George has 6,874 yards in his career on four yards per carry. Dillon has 5,577 yards on 4.5 yards per carry. George is having an off year with 2.8 yards per carry. And Dillon isn't worried that he has 55 fewer yards on 25 more carries compared to last year's midway point.

"I'm not worried abut the stats, just the wins," Dillon said. "That's OK. I'm still in good position and I'm looking to get stronger for the next eight. Who knows? Those are still pretty good numbers. I think it shows we're running the ball more and it will come. We just have to take advantage of the situations when we get to run the ball. There have been points in the game when we can't run the ball and there's nothing you can do about that."

**

MATCHUPS:The Bengals offensive line is smarting from the Jaguars' domination last week in Jacksonville and head coach Dick LeBeau put the hat on the unit this week in meetings.Bengals LT Richmond Webb* tkes on *Titans DE Jevon Kearse* in battle of Pro Bowls then and now. Bngals RT Willie Anderson revivs his college rivalry with Titns DE Kevin Carter.

Bengals FB Lorenzo Neal takes on Titans head coach Jeff Fisher in a battle of wits. It will also be a battle of nerves in the slot, where Bengals WR Peter Warrick duels Titans CB Samari Rolle and Bengals CB Artrell Hawkins defends Titans WR Derrick Mason.

Cincinnati, 0-3 against mobile quarterbacks, needs a good game out of spying Bengals SS JoJuan Armour against Titans QB Steve McNair. Suddenly, Bengals K Neil Rackers is the hot guy against struggling Titans K Joe Nedney.

**

WEBB VS. KEARSE:** Webb struggled last week, giving up his first two sacks of the year against the Jags' Tony Brackens. But the Bengals think Webb, appearing to be about a split-second slow because of the road noise, has straightened himself out and that he should get a lift at home. The 325-pound Webb has 60 pounds and nine years of experience on Kearse, 25.

But the Bengals, who didn't help Webb with a tight end or back against Brackens, better be able to offer help if he needs it. Kearse has five sacks in his last two games, is averaging a sack a game, and has a Freakish 34 sacks since coming into the league in 1999, two more than Warren Sapp to lead the NFL.

ANDERSON VS. CARTER: It's been a long time since the Bengals nearly decided to eschew a trade for the No. 1 pick in the 1995 Draft for Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter. They almost decided to stay put and take the other Carter (Kevin) with the fifth pick and running back Curtis Martin in the second round.

It's been longer still since Anderson, then a sophomore at Auburn, did such a thorough job against Florida's Carter that the NFL scouts took notes.

Carter, who came to the Titans via a trade from the Rams after leading the NFL in sacks the past three seasons, has just two this year. The knock on him is his alleged inconsistent motor and that he got his sacks thanks to Astroturf and a St. Louis offense that always had the lead. But he's a dangerous player who leads his defensive line in tackles.

NEAL VS. FISHER: Neal and Fisher patched things up this week over some ungracious things Fisher has said since Neal decided not to take a pay cut and stay in Nashville. But Neal, a fiercely proud man, is burning, and has passed the torch to his new teammates by telling them that Fisher got his team ready to play Cincinnati by telling the Titans the Bengals would quit after getting hit in the mouth.

Plus, if the Bengals are going to run against the Titans' eight-men-in-a-box scheme, Neal has to blow up some safeties. And if things don't go well, he may need to help on Kearse and Carter in the passing game.

WARRICK VS. ROLLE: The old Florida State teammates go head-to-head. Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna has noticed how much Rolle has meant to the Titans defense in the three games since he returned from a neck injury. Rolle is comng off a Pro Bowl season. Warrick is coming off a productive five-game stretch in which he has five catches of at least 20 yards and is averaging 12 yards per catch. But his last and only touchdown came in Game 3.

HAWKINS VS. MASON: Some on the Bengals think Mason may not be as elusive as Warrick, but they think he could be quicker and that's got to scare the yards out of them. Not only do they have to worry about him returning kicks and punts, but he's coming off a career-high 12 catches Monday night against Baltimore. Mason, who set the NFL season record for all-purpose yards with 2,690 last year, is on pace to ring up only 843 this year, but he's an explosive guy who caught a big 19-yard touchdown pass at PBS last year that gave the Titans the lead for good in a 23-14 win.

How can Hawkins' play and that of his secondary be totally ripped for holding Jags receivers Jimmy Smith (63) and Keenan McCardell (61) to 124 combined yards last week? The Titans gave Smith 120 and McCardell 64.

But with the Titans' receiving corps down to the nub, they can't let Mason beat them. Their No. 3 receiver is a 6-5 free-agent rookie out of UCLA in Drew Bennett. He's a guy whose sure hands remind them of another tall Bruin in teammate Danny Farmer. **

ARMOUR VS. McNAIR:** Doug Flutie, Kordell Stewart and Mark Brunell have beat the Bengals and while they didn't scramble for long gains, they moved around long enough to hurt them. Armour got some snaps last week in the nickel package as a linebacker mirroring Brunell and did a decent job.

But the killer play came when he threw a touchdown on a bootleg as he got outside the Bengals. Rookie end Justin Smith has been terrific on straight-up-the-field pass rushes, but the Bengals need more containment against the run and quarterback action.

RACKERS VS. NEDNEY: For once, Rackers isn't the beleaguered kicker in this game. After making a trip last week to Illinois to work with his college holder, Rackers came back to go 2-for-2 and kick the longest field of his career from 52 yards.

Nedney is in a 1-for-5 slump and after hitting his last try Monday night from 27 yards. But earlier in a 16-10 loss, he missed one from 48 yards and lost another on a bad snap. Sound familiar? Nedney said he caught a lot of loose Adelphia Coliseum turf when he pushed the 48-yarder. He's just 6-for-12 between 40 and 49 yards and one of two from 50.

SOD STORY: Corey Dillon's home track, the Paul Brown Stadium field, is getting a facelift. And the Pro Bowl running back figures he'll just tie his cleats and move on.

The stadium management company announced Friday that the middle of the field will be re-sodded after Sunday's game with grass from the S.W. Franks facility in New Jersey. Hamilton County expects S.W. Franks to provide the re-sod, a procedure that has already taken place in the stadiums of the Panthers, Bears, Cardinals, Chargers, Dolphins, Packers, Titans and soon in Pittsburgh.

"I don't care if it was concrete, I'm ready," said Dillon, who has always said about his stadium, "There's no place like home."

That's because he has averaged 5.2 yards per carry in a dozen PBS games that include six 100-yard

efforts. That includes 215 on what amounted to frozen sand last December against Arizona. The NFL has informed the stadium manager the league doesn't want a repeat of last season's problems, when the stadium was forced to use a fragile Bermuda grass field, instead of the Kentucky bluegrass that is there now.

"I know what needs to happen," Dillon said. "I know what needs to be done to prepare to go out on a surface like that. It's nothing new. You adjust your spikes, go out there and see what you can do.

"That's an excuse, really," Dillon said of the field. "That's no excuse. You just have to go out and do what you do, regardless. You know the surface isn't going to be the best, so you go out there and do what you can do."

Earlier in the week, Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna shrugged off the possibility of new sod.

"It happens every year for teams that have natural grass fields that play in climates that change a lot from the beginning of the season to the end," Kitna said. "San Francisco, Green Bay, they have to do it all the time. They have to change out the middle of the field and all that. If that's something that we have to do, then so be it. I can put a little plug in for that stuff that they have at the University of Washington, that stuff is great. It never goes bad."

That's what Kitna played on while quarterbacking the Seahawks last year in Seattle. It's called Field Turf and is a combination of sand and rubber in which each blade has its own individual root. It's soft enough that players don't get turf burns and they can slide on it.

Eric Brown, the PBS managing director, said the grounds crew recommended re-sodding now because the cold weather forecast for New Jersey and Cincinnati next week makes it difficult to get the field ready for the Dec. 2 and Dec. 9 games against Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.

Other factors were the re-seeding process that began earlier this week didn't take, as well as the NFL directive calling for a "safe and reliable field," for the three remaining games and a possible wild card playoff game Jan. 12. **

NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need, like the jersey numbers for Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon (28) and Pro Bowl Titans running back Eddie George (27). The Bengals are 5-2 when Dillon carries at least 28 times. The Titans are 24-2 when George carries at least 27 times.

4.5 _ Corey Dillon's career yards per carry.

4.0 _ Eddie George's career yards per carry.

4_100-yard rushers vs. the Titans in last 46 games (Fred Taylor twice, Terry Allen, Priest Holmes).

1,443 _ Days since the Bengals last victory over the Titans.

1,406 _ Yards per season George averaged with Lorenzo Neal as his fullback.

888 _ Projected yards George finishes with in first post-Neal season.

63.5 _ Combined sacks by Tennessee defensive ends Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter since 1999.

81 _ Bengals sacks since 1999.

40 _ Projected Bengals sacks for 2001, most since 42 in 1995.

3,218 _ Projected passing yards for Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna, most since Jeff Blake in 1996 and the fourth Cincinnati quarterback (Blake, Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason) to hit 3,000.

379 _ Career catches with which Bengals receiver Darnay Scott is projected to finish the season, passing Eddie Brown into fourth on the club's all-time list and 37 shy of third-place Isaac Curtis.

246 _ Dillon's then NFL single-game rookie rushing record set against Titans in 1997.

75.2 _ Yards Dillon has averaged in the six games against Tennessee since 1997.

29-11 _Titans record since they erased nine-point Bengals' lead in last four minutes of 1999 season opener.

12-28 _Bengals record since '99 opener.

36-5 _ Touchdowns and interceptions Titans quarterbacks Steve McNair and Neil O'Donnell have combined against the Bengals.

**

WEATHER REPORT:** The Channel 12 weather gurus are calling for perfection Sunday, with sunny skies and temperatures reaching the low 70s.

CHAD IN DOUBT: Bengals rookie wide receiver Chad Johnson may not play Sunday against the Titans after coach Dick LeBeau got another look at him during Friday's practice.

"If we were playing tomorrow, he probably wouldn't go," said LeBeau, leaning to a game-time decision. "I'm not going to rush him if he looks like he's not ready to go."

Johnson, the Bengals' fastest receiver, hasn't played since breaking his left collarbone against the Browns

Oct. 14. He's averaging 12.3 yards for his 12 catches, second among the regular receivers. After rookie T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Danny Farmer combined for their first nine catches of the season last week in Jacksonville for 107 yards, LeBeau is hesitant about using Johnson four weeks after suffering an injury that usually takes six weeks to heal.

But if he's able to play, LeBeau will use Johnson as the third receiver with starters Darnay Scott and Peter Warrick.

"Chad is getting better every day," LeBeau said. "We've got a lot of depth at that position. "

Every other Bengal besides left guard Matt O'Dwyer, who is out with a sprained knee, looks to be available.

In Tennessee Friday, Titans quarterback Steve McNair didn't practice for the third straight day with a severe bone bruise on his throwing thumb. He did some soft toss, but said he had pain when he took some snaps from Bruce Matthews. He's still saying he'll play and after going through the same dance about McNair's status last year, LeBeau doesn't doubt it.

"Get out the same CD and play it again," LeBeau said. "He'll play. I looked at that video (of Monday night's game in Tennessee) and I watched every ball he threw. At no time was there any velocity off his ball. He might have some discomfort. I'm not saying that, but there's nothing there to keep him from playing."

Safety Blaine Bishop (foot) will make the trip to Cincinnati, but the Titans don't expect him to play.

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