Updated: 10-16-12, 7:15 a.m.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is best known for his blindside pass protection of quarterback Andy Dalton, but he threw Cincinnati's biggest block in the running game during Sunday's 34-24 loss to the Browns.
When he reached Browns middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson at the second level, it sprung running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis for his longest run as a Bengal, a 20-yarder up the middle that set up a touchdown late in the first half.
But that was a rarity Sunday. A total of 11 of Green-Ellis's 16 runs went for three yards or less and while he's at a 3.4-yard average for the season, the Bengals are at 3.9. And Whitworth noticed the Browns front seven adjusted from last month.
"They jumped under a lot, really kind of gambled that we weren't ever going to go outside with the football," Whitworth said. "They jumped under everything and it kind of squeezed the interior of the line. They did a lot of that kind of stuff, which I thought was pretty unorthodox but it worked. It was timed up right and we missed out on a couple of opportunities to get the ball outside."
Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron seemed to believe that the Bengals weren't going to hurt them on the perimeter without speed back Bernard Scott.
"They didn't seem too worried about it," Whitworth said.
Cincinnati's one shot to go outside came on its second series when wide receiver Andrew Hawkins went in motion and took a handoff from Dalton running right to left on the "Jet Sweep." Hawkins could only get two yards when safety T.J. Ward came in unblocked down the sideline.
"The safety kind of came down. Actually everybody was blocked and it was just him and the safety there and he and just the back and a great one-on-one tackle," Whitworth said. "I think they had seen it before on film and the safety just kind of read it. Everything else was gone. We could've been out the gate. But one guy made a great play."
That's been the explanation so far in the running game. Either the defense makes a great play, or one blocker makes a mistake to negate the work of the others. But the Bengals also seem to be suffering a hangover from the injury to center Kyle Cook.
Cook, the brains of the operation, got hurt 10 days before the opener that unveiled the two new young Bengals guards in rookie Kevin Zeitler on the right and second-year man Clint Boling on the left.
"The key is just finding a way for everybody to get on the same page, communicate a little better," Whitworth said. "This is the first time we've been in a situation where all three guys interior-wise are new. So we're learning to communicate together and figure those things out. That's the key to the running game. You have to know where each one of them is going to be and how you're going to hit a guy and how you're going to pass things off and all that stuff."
Veteran center Jeff Faine has come off the couch and gutted it out as well as anyone could have hoped given the late hour he arrived. The Bengals expect Cook (ankle) back in the second half of the season, but they seem to be looking for some more athleticism. They went with rookie center Trevor Robinson for a series early in the game and ran a stretch a play.
"He's a guy all of us think is going to have a great future," Whitworth said. "He's a very promising young player and will be a good center in this league eventually. He got a good opportunity."
The Bengals have had their struggles running the ball before Green-Ellis and Faine arrived on the scene. They've averaged less than four yards per carry the last two seasons and five of the previous six when they had everybody from Rudi Johnson to Cedric Benson to Kenny Watson to Chris Perry running the ball.
"We had a couple of errors. We had a couple times falling off the block, a couple movement things where they reacted a little differently and we didn't adjust," Lewis said of what happened Sunday. "We have to eliminate a lot of the gray area for our guys. We can be as creative as we can, but we have to understand that they are coaching the other guys, too, and that there are certain things and ways they are going to react to what we're doing as well.
"We had a good plan, but we have to understand they are going to react, and we have to go back and adjust. We roared up in there right before halftime with a 20-yard and four-yard run, and then we came out in the third quarter and didn't run it as well. But in the fourth quarter, we had a couple good runs. We have to continue that, and when they zig and zag and hit one for no gain, it can't scare us out of it."
And then there was the score. The Bengals ended the game with Dalton throwing 22 straight passes. Which best explains Whitworth giving up a blindside sack and strip late in the game.
LEONARD DAY-TO-DAY: The news is good for running back Brian Leonard. X-rays were negative Monday on his rib problem and he's day-to-day for Sunday's 8:20 p.m. game (Cincinnati's Channel 5) against the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. With the bye week Oct. 28, he could only miss one game and rest it for nearly three weeks so even though the Bengals worked out a back Monday it doesn't look like they need one for the long term because of health. Leonard says the rib has been nagging him since the preseason.
SAFETY LOOK: The Bengals still seem to be trying to figure out the safety spot opposite Reggie Nelson. Cornerback Nate Clements, who made the move there four games ago, only played 60 percent of the snaps Sunday while Chris Crocker got a significant boost to 37 percent after Clements played virtually all the snaps last week against Miami.
Both Nelson and Clements got talked to on the sidelines after Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon split the safeties for his 71-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the second quarter in Clevleand. And Crocker appeared to lose track of tight end Jordan Cameron after Cameron stumbled before he caught a 23-yard pass.
"I guess Coach is working us both in," Clements said.
MILES TO GO: Bengals safety Jeromy Miles had a best and worst moment within 10 seconds Sunday when he thought Browns punt returner Josh Cribbs called a fair catch on his own 10 in the third quarter. As the gunner, Miles did exactly what he's supposed to do on a fair catch and ran behind him.
Except that Cribbs didn't wave his hand for a fair catch. Well, he did, but he was waving off his own players to stay away from the ball. Miles ended up taking off and saving a TD when he dragged down Cribbs from behind after a 60-yard return.
"We all thought it was a fair catch, but it doesn't matter. You've got to go get the guy," Miles said.
Even though Miles ran by, linebackers Roddrick Muckelroy and Manny Lawson were in perfect position to nail Cribbs at the 15, but he split them and was off.
"It's a good lesson for our guys to understand. Jeromy did as he's coached on a fair catch; the only thing is it wasn't a fair catch," Lewis said. "You can see their guys stop running as well. It's unfortunate, but you have to learn from it. When you're doing those plus-50 punts, you are going to get a guy behind the returner trying to down the football, and everyone else has to front up the returner. We were ready, but we missed some tackles. But it was good hustle by Miles."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» The news is still developing out of Pittsburgh when it comes to the mounting Steelers injury problems. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley worked Monday and is expected to play after sitting out Thursday's loss to the Titans. But safety Troy Polamalu isn't expected to play. The top two running backs, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, didn't practice and neither did starting center Maurkice Pouncey and starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert.
» WILL backer Manny Lawson dipped to 35 percent while backup Dan Skuta played the most he's played all season with 20 plays, or 31 percent. Backup end/SAM backer Dontay Moch made his NFL debut working out of the nickel package at end sometimes and sometimes at tackle. He played four snaps.