BY GEOFF HOBSON
Cincinnati's Corey Dillon vs. Tennessee's Eddie George.
It's one of the NFL's marquee matchups when the Bengals head to Nashville this Sunday.
The NFL's third-leading rusher (Dillon) vs. the NFL's fifth-leading rusher (George).
The 225-pound cut-back, stiff-arm runner who leads the NFL with 11 runs of 20 yards or more (Dillon) vs. the 240-pound tireless bruiser who has just three runs of 20 yards or more but is third in the NFL with 81 first downs and has nearly 500 receiving yards (George).
The power running back who set an NFL rookie rushing record against George's team (Dillon) vs. the power running back who has pounded Dillon's team for his most yards against any club with 884 in nine games (George).
One of the nine men to gain 5,000 yards in his first four seasons (George) vs. the man 263 yards away from becoming the 10th (Dillon).
The man who a few months ago signed a contract with a $14 million bonus (George) vs. the man at the end of his contract also looking for a big paycheck (Dillon).
Dillon's name has been on the bulletin board of Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams since the night of Dec. 4, 1997, when Dillon broke Jim Brown's single-game rookie rushing record with 246 yards.
With Denver's Mike Anderson breaking Dillon's record last Sunday, Titans coach Jeff Fisher was asked Wednesday if he was pleased to be out of the record books.
"I wasn't as pleased as Coach Williams," Fisher said. "If you want to get under Gregg's skin, just mention the name, 'Corey Dillon.'"
Dillon understands. "Some people just don't like you." But he doesn't take it personally.
"Nah, I'm not into that matchup stuff," said Dillon Wednesday after watching practice.
"I admire his running style and what he's accomplishing. But I don't size him up and I'm sure he doesn't size me up. This is football. Maybe if we were playing another sport where we went one-on-one, you could talk about it. But not this."
Dillon is following his routine of the last few weeks and rests Wednesday before practicing Thursday and Friday.
His body needs the respite since his 264 carries is already a career high, and on Sunday he goes against a Titans' team that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 34 of its last 38 games.
"They're very athletic," said Bengals quarterback Scott Mitchell. "They're able to make any kind of play on the field and they really don't tell you what they're going to do when they line up."
It's controlled chaos, but it's the offense that doesn't know what's going on against the Titans' eight-man front that Fisher took from Buddy Ryan as a backup defensive back for Chicago's all-out pressure defense of the mid-to-late '80s.
The only 100-yard games Tennessee has allowed in their last 16 is two to Jacksonville's Fred Taylor. Plus, four of the NFLs' 12 1,000-yard runners this season didn't crack 100 when they played Tennessee.
Including Dillon, who had 95 on 15 carries in a 23-14 loss Oct. 8. After putting the Bengals on the board on his fourth carry of the day with an 80-yard touchdown run, the Titans swarmed him on his last 11 runs in holding him to seven yards. Seven of those carries went for a yard or less.
So that's really Sunday's marquee matchup.
Dillon vs. Titans strong safety Blaine Bishop, middle linebacker Randall Godfrey, right outside linebacker Eddie Robinson. . .
"We got embarrassed," said right tackle Willie Anderson of the offensive line's play Oct. 8. "They put it to us up front. Each individual man has to find a way to play better. We have to take some pride to keep that No. 1 status in the running game."
The Bengals lead the NFL in rushing, but went into Oct. 8 ranked in the lower half of the league.
Yet the return of injured center Rich Braham, the young receivers getting more comfortable blocking downfield, and new coach Dick LeBeau's smashmouth mentality have made this a different running game.
"Last time (against Tennessee), we weren't ready for that mentality. Now, we're starting to build," Anderson said. . . .
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"We know we're going to run the ball a lot more going into the game. That prepares you during the week. You get ready to run it 40 times."
Of course, that's not the 3-9 Arizona Cardinals on the other side of the ball.
"Tennessee is a lot better team than Arizona," Anderson said. "Better players. They play harder. . .We have to attack, because Tennessee is going to attack us."
When Bengals quarterback Akili Smith couldn't find the receivers even though the Titans put eight and nine men at the line of scrimmage, his 85-yard passing day did more than anything to sentence Dillon to a day of drudgery back on Oct. 8.
"When those passes are there, we have to hit them," Anderson said.
The pass will end up deciding the fate of the run because a passing game will force Tennessee to be cautious on the back side of Dillon's runs.
"In order to run the ball against Tennessee, you have to get a hat on a hat," said injured fullback Clif Groce, who played Oct. 8. "They bring the safety (Bishop) down like he's another linebacker. If we can throw the ball, that takes him out of there and running our receivers in motion gives us a chance to block that back-side person."
Even Fisher has noticed the enthusiasm of Bengals blocking down the field. Their young receivers have gotten into the act with position coach Steve Mooshagian keeping a "yards-after-block," stat.
Rookie receiver Peter Warrick should have had it as an incentive. He's 317 receiving yards shy of $2.5 million, but his 75 "YABs," against Arizona puts him close to his 484 receiving yards for the season.
Fisher thinks the eight-man-in-the-box talk is overplayed. He figures a team that is last in the league in passing and first in rushing has seen it enough by now.
"I don't see the solution putting an eighth guy on the line of scrimmage," Fisher said. "They played the last four, five weeks against eight men and (ran the ball) effectively."