Bengals running back Cedric Benson answers questions like he runs the ball: Straight ahead with power.
So with Bengaldom in an uproar over the first two routs in the preseason, leave it to Benson to put it in pretty good perspective as the Bengals prepare for Thursday's 7 p.m. game against the Panthers at Paul Brown Stadium, which is tape-delayed on Cincinnati's Local 12 at 11:35 p.m. because it's not sold out.
"I wouldn't say worried," Benson said of his team's mindset. "But it raises a little question. We didn't game-plan and I'm sure the opposing team didn't either. But it's still a football game. You still want to put your best talents on film and try to win the game. I wouldn't say worried. We've got some question marks we've got to definitely answer."
Everyone knows those questions start with the offense and rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. He's completed just 56 percent of his passes and is averaging barely 4.5 yards per throw with three interceptions.
Of course, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is facing the same questions. Newton, the first overall No. 1 draft pick to face the Bengals in the preseason since the Colts' Peyton Manning came to Cinergy Field Aug. 17, 1998, has yet to convert a third down. Dalton has converted four, but is just 6-of-12 passing for 53 yards with one pick on third down.
But the Bengals should be able to make some hay Thursday. Against the bread-and-butter Dolphins offense last week the Panthers allowed 301 yards in the first half in a 20-10 loss.
"We've got to execute better, especially the little things," Benson said. "With a young quarterback you have to make sure he's comfortable in the pocket and is comfortable with the calls and comfortable with guys running their routes and checkdowns."
More candid Ced. It's tough for him to worry about Dalton as he gets his own house in order.
"I'm so focused I'm sure I'm ready to go come Opening Day, I haven't really paid much attention to him," he said. "But I think he's coming along well."
Benson says he hasn't seen any "truck-driving space," but after averaging 3.9 yards per his 13 carries, he sees promise in the running game.
"I think we can do a lot of good things," he said. "I think the potential is there to get a lot of yards. I think we can win games on the ground."
Thursday's game should see Benson and Dalton trying a new approach to the handoff. After they botched a handoff against the Jets on Sunday night, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants Dalton to get deeper and quicker on the handoff to give Benson a better read and a better chance to stay on the proper path.
"I'm sure you can find fault on both ends there. Those are the things that should never happen. We've taken handoffs with the opposite hand before," said Benson, alluding to 2009 when he had his breakout year even though quarterback Carson Palmer had a banged-up hand.
"You've got to get the ball to read and react. The closer you get to the line of scrimmage, the harder it is to see things. ... I don't want to be outrunning him to the spot and I'm paying attention to him (and not) reading my keys and stuff."
D CHALLENGED: After handling the elite Jets running game Sunday, the Bengals get another good one in Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams' new $5 million per year bursts. And Carolina will be running the ball plenty back there, as it did the last time the two clubs met, which was rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen's first NFL start in the Bengals 20-7 win on Sept. 26, 2010. It will be recalled while Palmer had a 27 passer rating at the half, Clausen had a 0.0 rating.
Williams did some damage in that one (64 yards on 10 carries) but the Bengals made key stops on him and they held wide receiver Steve Smith without a catch until 9:34 left in the game. Smith makes his '11 debut Thursday after having stiches removed from his left hand, which inspires Bengals cornerback Leon Hall.
"You don't see a guy with that much talent a lot," said Hall of the preseason. "He's quick and he can run. It will be a really good test."
Hall made a big play against Smith back in September with the Bengals up, 7-0 and the Panthers suddenly in the red zone thanks to a 38-yard interception return. But Hall made a diving pick in front of Smith at the Bengals 5.
"It was a zone. It was a two-man route, so it was a little easier," Hall said. "I was able to get into good position."
The Bengals probably won't see Clausen, nursing an injured elbow, after Newton works three quarters. Expect old friend Derek Anderson, the man that single-handedly blew up the Bengals 2007 season. The Bengals were "this close" to going 2-0 that day in Cleveland with Palmer's six TD passes, but Anderson threw one too many deep balls in a 51-45 win
TV CHECK: The game is tape delayed not only in Cincinnati, but in Dayton, Ohio at 11 p.m. on Channel 22. The game is live in Lima, Ohio on Channel 35, in Columbus on Channel 6 and in Louisville, Ky., on Channel 41.