PHOENIX, Ariz. _ The Bengals' long-term future in short yardage could be seen on that third-and-one from the Bengals 34 Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Running back Jeremy Hill made his first appearance with the Bengals first-team offense this preseason and lined up behind rookie fullback Ryan Hewitt. Hill followed Hewitt for five yards, a veritable football field against a Cardinals defense that until Hill came into the game and ran for three yards on an earlier play had allowed Giovani Bernard no yards on five carries.
The third-down run seemed to ignite them on their way to two field goals on drives that gobbled nearly 10 minutes of the second quarter and set up a 19-13 victory.
"I want to know who we are. There were other things on the sheet I could have called,' said offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. "But I wanted to find out who we are and I think I'm beginning to know who we are."
What Jackson knows is the 6-1, 233-pound Hill, the second-round pick out of LSU, has moved the chains no matter with what unit he's played. He came into the game averaging 5.8 yards per carry and he matched it with four more lugs in the first half against a Cardinals front that led the NFL against the rush last season.
When the dust cleared, Hill had 48 yards on 12 carries, giving him an even 100 on his first 21 NFL carries, good for a 4.8 average.
"He's a good runner. He's a physical dude, he's a big dude," said Hewitt, the free agent from Stanford. "He's a good dynamic runner….We ran a weak-side iso and I was able to seal it off for Jeremy. I felt the hole. I knew he was going to get through. Then the safety came up and hit me and I richoteted into him, but we got good yardage."
What Jackson is also learning is that the 6-4, 254-pound Hewitt doesn't mind contact and he already knows enough about Hewitt that he's started with the first group since the preseason games began.
"I'm glad Coach Hue trusted me with that opportunity to extend the drive," Hill said. "I've worked with these guys in training camp. It was nothing new. I was just kind of showing the world I'm used to being there on game day."
If Bernard's legs are the engines of Jackson's philosophy of stunning the foe with a speedy ground game, then Hill's power is the face of his desire to wear down the opponent.
"I thought Gio ran hard," Jackon said. "Sometimes it's not about the yards, it's about the attempts and Gio did that. And Jeremy and Ced (Peerman) did that."
But they didn't do it in the first quarter, when the Cardinals stacked the line and dared quarterback Andy Dalton to beat them with blitzing safetys. He eventually did, but they also didn't abandon the running game as Hill opened it up with some of his power and Jackson opened up the rest with throws to the perimeter.
"We were doing a lot of shot-gun runs early on and they were kind of jamming it up in there," Hill said. "Then in the second quarter we got under center and just made some checks at the line until the fronts where we got some successful runs."
The Bengals hung with the running game even though it had been non-existent in the first quarter. In those last two drives of the first half, they ran it nine of 23 snaps.
"It's a big part of what we want to do," Dalton said. "Obviously, there are going to be times where they are going to be conscious about the run, so you have to throw it to move the chains and score points, but there are also some looks where you want to run, and you want to be successful running the ball. I think that's what we try to do."
You get the idea that won't be the last time Hill and Hewitt are lined up on a third-and-one.
"That's what I pride myself on," Hill said. "Being 100 percent on third-and-shorts and goal line situations being a big back."