Home is where the yards are

Posted: 3 a.m.

Kenny Watson may have more yards per carry, but Rudi Johnson has more memories per home game than anybody on this team.

Maybe more than any other Bengal, Johnson feeds off the Paul Brown Stadium crowd and maybe, just maybe, a few choruses of "Rudi, Rudi" will lift the Bengals' running out of the abyss that is 3.5 yards per carry.

"I haven't been home yet; every home game I've had to watch," said Johnson after Wednesday's practice. "I'm really looking forward to getting out there and having the crowd with me."

Asked if there is anything different about his game, Johnson insists no and says, '"You see it. Tape doesn't lie." Well, then neither do the numbers.

Since his breakout game, that 100-yard game Oct. 26, 2003 against Seattle made possible by a car wreck that delayed Corey Dillon, the notoriously tardy Johnson has been right on time at PBS. In 30 straight home games since, Johnson averaged 98 yards per game until the hamstring injury took him out of the October games in Cincinnati against New England, the Jets and Pittsburgh.

But in the 34 road games he has played since that Seattle game, he has averaged just 69 yards. And the only time he has played at home this year is the opener in the victory over Baltimore when he had 50 yards on 18 carries , which these days is a veritable feast.

Since his 118-yard effort in Cleveland in the second game of the year, Johnson injured his hamstring and since has 74 yards on 52 carries.

While Watson has piled up 4.4 yards per carry to Johnson's 2.6 for the season, there is an increasing buzz for Watson to get the job. But there appears to be no move afoot to make a move.

And although Chris Perry continues to get more work in practice on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list , all signs point to him coming back in two weeks against Tennessee, exactly 364 days after he dislocated his ankle.

He should help the running game but when asked if he'll have the same speed, Perry said, "If I'm not, then I shouldn't come back. I do feel better than last week."

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Rudi Johnson

Johnson's coaches and teammates are hesitant to lay the woes of the running game solely at his feet after his 46 yards on 22 carries Sunday in Baltimore.

Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski: "Our six guys got beat by their six guys up front. ... We've got to start by blocking them up front. We got manhandled pretty good. I'm not sure many people could have gotten a lot of yards the other day."

Left tackle Levi Jones: "You can't blame it on Rudi until the offensive line opens up some holes. We haven't been taking care of business as a unit. So jumping out there on Rudi for not getting yards or saying he's not healthy, let the offensive line get some holes open, then say that."

Quarterback Carson Palmer: "It's not all on Rudi. Rudi is still Rudi Johnson. It's not a hamstring issue. It's not he's getting old. He's still one of the better backs in this league and can still run the ball and get 1,500 yards a year if we need him to. It's easy to point it all on Rudi and say well, look at the numbers with Kenny. But we're still going to give Rudi the ball and Rudi's still going to make things happen because he's capable of doing it."

Of course, Palmer also said that giving Watson more carries is a valid point, but he admitted his ideal world is giving each 20 carries while he throws it 35 times.

Not going to happen. But Johnson thinks he's close to making something happen.

"I'm not 100 percent, but I felt better Sunday than I did against Buffalo," he said. "I'm close. I'm just waiting, waiting, waiting for that game I used to have. I'm really excited about being at home again. I haven't been there."

The trend isn't homey. Since the start of the 2006 season, Johnson has carried 434 times for a 3.6-yard average. In the previous 930 carries, he was 4.3. The Bengals have also gone their last 27 games without a run longer than 22 yards and the last 46 without a run longer than 33.

"Of course, of course," said Johnson, when asked if the injury has affected his numbers. "It's tough because everything you do is based on the leg, on that muscle. Certain cuts, certain turns, acceleration, deceleration. You also have to carry people on your back with one leg and if your leg isn't strong enough ... you can't simulate that in rehab or in practice. (Only) until you get in a game."

"If you don't have your burst, without that you don't want to be out there. That was the case in Kansas City," said Johnson of the Oct. 14 game he had to bow out with just eight yards on four carries and didn't return for three more weeks.

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Bratkowski

But Bratkowski was encouraged by what he saw last week in practice.

"A little more burst than he's had; a little more confidence in it," Bratkowski said. "Those hamstrings, you really have to let them go. It's hard to open it up because you're always afraid when you reach that full stride you'll re-injure it. I think he's shown that he's closer to 100 percent."

Jones turns the focus back on an offensive line that he says is angry and can't figure out why the Bengals can't run the ball. Yes, they miss Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson, but they've also had the same line for three straight games.

The Bengals haven't had much success against the smaller, quicker defensive lines like those in Seattle, Buffalo and Kansas City. Jones says the Cardinals, ranked 13th against the rush giving just 3.8 per run, fit that style.

"As an offensive line, we've got to get back to those days where we dominated and moved people," Jones said. "(The Cards) do a good job flying around and getting upfield. These guys try to get you on the edge. With Pittsburgh, there is a lot of physical, mano a mano stuff. These guys fly around on you."

Told that the quicker lines seem to have their number, Jones said, "I think we've had our own number. We're not taking care of the technical and physical things. If you can't get the running game going, you can't start anything else."

Which is Bratkowski's point when it comes to last Sunday's red zone problems, when the Bengals fell out of the NFL's top five in touchdown percentage all the way to 21st by going 0-for-7 with seven Shayne Graham field goals.

"We like to have better balance down there," he said.

But because of the relative success until the Ravens game, Bratkowski says, "I'm not overly concerned about it," and noted that last year in the playoffs in Baltimore the Colts only got five field goals in their 15-6 victory.

"We were playing a very good defense," he said.

But Johnson has always excelled in the red zone in turning those 18-, 16-, 14-yard runs into touchdowns. He has yet to score a rushing touchdown this season after scoring 40 of his 45 career touchdowns in the red zone.

"That's where the money is," Johnson said.

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