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Posted: 9:45 a.m.
Rudi stands seventh in the NFL with 1235 yards rushing. (Bengals photo)
Now it's about trying to get injured guys ready in time for the playoffs, most notably backup running back Chris Perry (ankle) and starting defensive tackle Bryan Robinson (foot). Both are out for Sunday's game against the Lions after hobbling out of Paul Brown Stadium on Monday (Perry in a cast, Robinson on crutches), but the hope is they can be back in time for the postseason.
One thing you do know. Rudi Ali Johnson is going to carry the ball more, which has been a good thing for the Bengals. Especially late in the year and on the road. The Bengals are not only 11-0 when he carries at least 25 times, but since last season he has averaged 90 yards per game in those last six cold-weather road games the Bengals have gone 5-1.
Of course, they can close the roof in Detroit, but they can't close the numbers. When Johnson gets the ball 25 times or more in a game, it's not like he's slogging away. He averages 125 yards per game on 4.3 yards per carry, but he does need a breather now and then. Without Perry, that man looks to be fullback Jeremi Johnson.
Jeremi is the guy that causes the least disruption to the offense. On third down, he can be moved back to running back, where his hands are a plus in the passing game, and one of the tight ends (most notably Reggie Kelly) can play at fullback like the Bengals have been doing a lot lately, anyway. They can do the same thing on first and second down, or activate fullback Nick Luchey for the first time this year and put him in front of Jeremi if they want to go two backs.
How big does that season-ending arm injury to third down back Kenny Watson look now?
The Energizer Bengal just keeps going and going...
Whatever they do, pencil in Rudi Johnson for more work and isn't that what had been happening anyway? The man who pedaled a stationary Tour de France on the sidelines during his club-record 43 carries two years ago loves to stay loose. In the first eight games of this season, Rudi averaged 20 carries per game and Perry five. In the four games before Perry got hurt, it was Rudi 23 and Perry three.
"Oh yeah, no problem," Johnson said. "You know better than that. I can take whatever. It's just third down. I've got to get in that."
Johnson already knows what to do on third down, which is when Perry primarily gets the bulk of his snaps. He says he just has to be more detailed about it, particularly on picking up the blitz and protecting quarterback Carson Palmer. He also has to catch the ball. Head coach Marvin Lewis defended Palmer's worst pro performance on Sunday, in part, with four dropped balls, one by Rudi on a dump pass, two by wide receiver Chad Johnson and one from wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Rudi might not have to worry about it if the Bengals decide to put Jeremi back there on passing downs. Three of his seven catches have gone for touchdowns from three different ranges. He caught a 27-yarder semi-downfield against Green Bay, broke an 18-yarder in the flat in Cleveland in the opener, and caught a one-yarder against Houston.
He's carried three times for four yards, but now that he's at a svelte 245 pounds - down from last season's 265 - he adds more quickness to what is already a very athletic big man.
"JJ is in shape and he's a real good runner," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "They're getting mad at him for losing too much weight, but he can run with the ball."
Rudi Johnson has noticed. "He's able to get up on linebackers quicker," he said of Jeremi. "Some of the linebackers are kind of surprised how quick he can get up on them, and that's because of the weight he lost in the offseason. He's a lot quicker, agile, and he feels a lot better about himself going into the game."
But with Rudi so comfortable as the bell cow, the Bengals are looking for a guy to give them only five or six carries at the most. It's just that they got spoiled with Perry's 5.1 yards per carry.
"We need to give Rudi a break without losing production," Anderson said. "Chris's loss is big. He's not just a backup. He comes in and makes starter's plays and everybody gets excited. Most team's second running backs aren't as good as Chris Perry. You hope we can give Rudi a breather so he doesn't have to take every rep. JJ can do it."
Anderson is a big fan of practice squad running back Quincy Wilson ("I think we've got a surprise down there. Good kid and a tough runner."), a guy he thinks could also do it. But activating Wilson would come at the cost of someone else at another roster spot. With Perry and Robinson not looking at injured reserve yet, that's a hard spot to come by.
And, there is Nicolas Luchey. The 270-pound Luchey has yet to be active for a game in his second stint with the Bengals and, let's see, there are exactly 14 guys left from that last pre-Marvin home game. As inactive Rudi Johnson watched Corey Dillon and Brandon Bennett go down, Luchey moved to running back and racked up career-highs with 12 carries, 59 yards, and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone in a 20-13 victory over the Saints.
That was 23 days before the Bengals hired Lewis, and what's more amazing? Since Dec. 22, 2002, Luchey has carried just 11 times, Rudi Johnson has amassed 3,671 yards, and the Bengals are 26-20.
Johnson not only remembers Luchey doing the "Ickey Shuffle" during that game ("He was on every highlight"), he also remembers standing there and watching.
"Maybe if I was playing, I would have had an opportunity a lot sooner," Johnson said. "A long way. Confidence pays off. I had confidence in myself."
Johnson also has confidence that Luchey can pop a few again, but, like Luchey said Monday, he feels he can do more than that. Remember, this is Edgerrin James's college blocking back.
"That probably is it," said Luchey of that New Orleans win as his career-best offensive day. "But there were times I had some big games blocking. I'd put my tape up against anybody's when it comes to that. I'll do whatever is asked."
Luchey was released after a two-year stay in Green Bay and he signed back here the day after Watson got hurt in the opener. He's unconcerned about not playing in a year because he knows both backfield spots in a system he has known since the Bengals took him in the fifth round in 1999.
Luchey also has the added adrenaline of going back home to play as a greater Detroit native (Farmington Hills), and the experience of playing the Lions four times with the Packers.
"I'm not a rookie. I've been doing this for seven years, so there's not a problem going into a game now," Luchey said. "I don't know what they're going to do, but I imagine I would be (active). We'll see. I know the Lions, and I was born and bred there, so all that is exciting. But I'll do what they want me to do. The main thing is to come out of there with a win. If they need me, then I'm ready and if they don't need me, that's fine, too, and I'll keep getting ready."
But with Perry hurt, don't look for the Bengals to put Palmer in mothballs. There seems to be some concern from outsiders about Palmer's ability to throw in bad conditions after a windy PBS yielded his career-low 93 passing yards.
It looks like that game gave the Colts' Peyton Manning the NFL passing title. He now has a five-point lead on Palmer in passer rating (108.2-103.2) with Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger a point behind at 102.2.
The Bengals are basically inside this Sunday, but are going to be outdoors on Christmas Eve and New Year's Day. The worry warts seem to forget that Palmer threw for 202 yards against the Super Bowl-champion Patriots in two and a half quarters last Dec. 12 in the sub-freezing temperatures of Gillette Stadium, where there is a gust on the Fourth of July.
Plus, it was a blow-on-your-hands Sunday in Pittsburgh nine days ago, when he threw for three touchdowns and engineered 38 points.
But Rudi Johnson is a nice weapon to have in November, December and Janaury. Last year and this year in those months, Johnson averages 101 yards with nine of those games going for at least 95 yards.
And, in those months since 2004, the Bengals are 10-4.