9-10-02, 11:00 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Corey Dillon's mission statement is to win The Ring and the last time he checked, the Bengals win when he carries the ball. A lot.
So when he had his fewest carries of the 30-game Dick LeBeau era Sunday with nine, the three-time Pro Bowl running back wondered if the Bengals had jilted him for a new playbook. After all, the signature of the old school LeBeau regime is Dillon's smashmouth running.
"I know what we are," Dillon said of his offense's best style. "If there has been a change, someone has to come out and make a statement and say what it is."
Dillon had minus-two yards at the half and 10 for the game in his worst outing since the nine yards in Bruce Coslet's last game before his resignation. In the last three games before LeBeau took over, Dillon carried just 31 times and Sunday's aroma had a similar whiff.
"I look around the league at these other teams that run the ball well and they run the ball regardless," Dillon said. "A tornado. Hurricane Ethel comes in here. Whatever. I can only run what they give me."
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski assured the populace Monday that this is still Dillon's offense and that there were 16 reasons for the
low number of carries in the 34-6 loss. That's how many official plays the Bengals had in the first half.
"When you have Corey Dillon, you have to consider yourself a running team. There's no question about that," Bratkowski said. "We didn't convert any third downs to keep anything going running or passing."
Dillon isn't saying he needs every carry or that he has to strap this team on his back for 16 games. He's just saying he needs more than nine lugs.
"You can't have two gods," Dillon said. "This is my livelihood. Nine carries? C'mon guys. Get real."
Quarterback Gus Frerotte understands the Bengals didn't sign him to replace Dillon in the playbook. He knows his success hinges on Dillon getting 25 to 30 carries a game.
"What quarterback wouldn't want to give him the ball that many times?" Frerotte asked. "Corey's the best running back in the league and I don't blame him for being frustrated. I know the thinking is keep giving him the ball and (the defense) gets worn down. It's just hard to run the ball when you keep getting stopped. It's like butting heads against a wall. I think if the game had been closer, it would have been a lot different and we would have run the ball more."
On the Bengals' first three series Dillon ran the ball twice and those runs were on the Bengals' first two snaps during a stretch the offense went punt-interception-punt.
"You have to be careful about always running on first down, running on second down and throwing on third down," Bratkowski said. "You better mix it up and throw it some on first down so you don't get predictable and they can use their eight-man front."
Bratkowski scripts the first 10 or so plays and on the club's first 10 snaps, Dillon ran five times. But with the Bengals down, 20-0, at the half, Bratkowski tried to jump-start the offense and pretty much stayed with a spread four-receiver set in the second half.
His plans were so out-of-sync with the score that fullback Lorenzo Neal figures he played only five snaps.
"Bob knows at some point we're going to have to be able to throw the ball, too, and that we've got to be efficient in the passing game," Neal said. "When you get behind the 8-ball like that, you can't give it to your horse like you want to. If you take their guy (Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson) and his worst runs of his first six or nine carries, but they were able to keep doing it. We know what our guy can do. You don't set NFL records without knowing how to run the ball."
Dillon says he's not trying to be the head coach, the offensive coordinator, or the defensive coordinator. He just wants to do what he does well.
"It's what I do," he said.
If history holds, Dillon should get his chance Sunday in Cleveland. In his last six games against the Browns, he has averaged 24 carries and he'll try to hit his average of 123.5 yards in those games. The Browns nearly gave up that to Chiefs running back Priest Holmes Sunday when they allowed 122.