10-2-01, 7:50 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The running game on both sides of the ball is topping the list of concerns for the Bengals following the 28-14 loss to the Chargers.
After watching Chargers rookie LaDainian Tomlinson rush for 107 yards on 21 carries, Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon is looking for that type of work after getting just 15 carries for 46 yards.
It's the fewest carries Dillon has had in Dick LeBeau's 16 games as head coach, tying the back-to-back outings he had last year against Tennessee (for 95 yards) and Pittsburgh (36), and he's clearly looking for more action against the Steelers.
Since 1998, Dillon has had three 23-carry games against Pittsburgh and responded with two 100-yard games and one for 99. He's looking for one of those grind-it-out, work-horse games to get back on track.
After those two 15-carry games, Dillon carried at least 20 times in six of the next seven games for two 100-yard games and two 200-yard games.
"I need to get into my groove," Dillon said Monday. "I have to have that. I need more than 15. By no means am I being greedy or selfish. But I need to get comfortable."
Fullback Lorenzo Neal thinks more Dillon carries would help the running game get into sync, but he also warns, "I think so, but it's OK to be a pig, you can't be a hog about it. . .We've got other guys that can help the team win."
The Bengals were comfortable getting the ball to Dillon in the third quarter, but execution was something else as he finished the second half with no carries on five yards.
On their first play in a 7-7 game, they gave the ball to
Dillon and lost five yards. On the first play of the next series, Dillon ripped off 11 yards before fumbling the ball away. On the next series, he carried all three plays on a set of plays that got blown up by a 14-yard loss by a strong safety blitz.
"Then we're down 28-7 and we've got to throw," said Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna. "That cost him eight to 10 touches in the fourth quarter. You have to stay in games to run the ball and the best way to stay in games is not to turn the ball over."
Dillon's numbers the past two weeks 103 yards on 33 carries reflect that the Bengals have played the two best run defenses in the NFL in Baltimore and San Diego. He had 104 in the opening win over New England, but lost 10 yards in the fourth quarter against the Patriots.
"They were stacking up the run because we had the lead," Kitna said. "If you look at the Chargers game, we ran the ball effectively in that first drive and then we had some penalties."
Dillon ran the ball three times for 13 yards on the first drive and Kitna and the rest of Cincinnati wonders what might have been if Dillon got that fourth carry on third-and-two at the San Diego 31. Dillon never got the handoff because Kitna's arm was jostled by Neal firing through the hole on his lead block.
"We can run the ball better. We will run the ball better," Neal said. "We have to execute it. You have to have more guys stay on their blocks and do what they need to do. Let's face it. You get him going and 28 can make things happen."
Dillon took responsibility for the loss because of his third-quarter fumble, but Kitna didn't want to hear it. Dillon had just picked up 11 yards and was looking for more when he started to switch the ball from his left arm to his right arm just as strong safety Rodney Harrison stripped the ball.
" That's just the nature. He's trying to make a play," Kitna said. "I love that. He's a competitor. I never have a problem with a guy trying to win like that. There are times when you make a play like that and hurts you and there are times you make a play like that and you win. I'd rather have that than a guy who says, 'OK, they blocked good enough for four yards, I'm going down now.'"
Dillon, who came into the season with a 4.6 yards per carry average, was at 3.1 and 3.2 against the Chargers and Ravens, respectively. He's only had three straight games he's been under four and that was in the first three games of last season just before LeBeau took over.
"It can't be Corey left, Corey right, Corey up the middle," Neal said. "(But) he's a big, big piece of the pie. . .This guy has the ability to take over the game if you get the ball to him ample times. There are times you can't always run it, like we did against Baltimore and we spread it out. You just have to keep pounding it."