Posted: 6:10 a.m.
Sunday looks like the perfect marriage between the Bengals? desire early in the season to protect quarterback Carson Palmer coming off an injury and an inexperienced offensive line with a run-oriented offense and an opponent against which they have continually been able to run the ball.
Since the Browns came back into the NFL in 1999, they have given up five of the Bengals? top 13 rushing games in history to three different running backs. Cedric Benson hit No. 11 back on Dec. 21 when his 171 yards on 38 carries in Cleveland served notice that his style and talent suited the rough-and-tumble AFC North.
?It was a raw, nasty 10-degree day with 30 mile per hour winds,? said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski of the Arctic conditions in the Browns stadium. ?And he came out sleeveless and ran extremely hard and he made a point. He showed everybody what kind of player he was. On a day like that he was going to go physical and go run hard and do the best he could.?
Benson knows it unofficially ended that painful first chapter of his pro career and opened this new one with the Bengals, the team that signed him early last season after the Bears had given up on the fourth pick in the draft, 2005 vintage.
?It was a big breakthrough for me; a great turnaround for me,? said Benson of that day and now he?s at the center of what looks to be a turnaround for the heart and soul of the Bengals offense.
As Benson?s NFL-leading 66 carries suggest and Bratkowski?s comments in the wake of the 23-20 win over the Steelers indicate, the run now comes first for the franchise that gave us Bill Walsh, Ken Anderson, Lindy Infante, Bruce Coslet, Boomer Esiason and, yes, Carson Palmer, a quarterback who once enjoyed a stretch of 14 games of 100-plus passer ratings out of 15 games in 2004 and 2005.
TOP BENGALS RUSHING GAMES IN HISTORY:
? 278, Corey Dillon, 2000 vs. Denver
? 246, Corey Dillon, 1997 vs. Tennessee
? 216, Corey Dillon, 2000 vs. Arizona
? 202, Rudi Johnson, 2004 vs. Cleveland? 201, James Brooks, 1990 vs. Houston
? 192, Corey Dillon, 1999 vs. Cleveland
? 190, Harold Green, 1992 vs. New England
? 184, Corey Dillon, 2001 at Detroit
? 182, Rudi Johnson, 2003 vs. Houston
? 174, Rudi Johnson, 2003 vs. San Francisco
? 171, Cedric Benson, 2008 at Cleveland? 169, Rudi Johnson, 2004 vs. Cleveland? 168, Corey Dillon, 1999 at Cleveland
But you don?t have to tell Palmer he?s at his most dangerous when the running game is good enough that he doesn?t have to throw every down. In those games, running back Rudi Johnson averaged at least 4.2 yards per carry in eight of them. He?s had nine triple-digit games in the last three years, seasons when the Bengals have failed to rush four yards per carry.
?Everybody is,? said Palmer when asked if the run commitment makes him more dangerous as a passer. ?When the running game gets going, I get into a rhythm, too. It gets the defense back on its heels a little bit.?
Everybody seems to have bought into head coach Marvin Lewis? incessant offseason run-the-ball mantra. The OC. The Pure Passer. Even the former diva wide receiver. When asked what?s wrong with an offense that has just one pass over 40 yards (and that off a flea-flicker), Chad Ochocinco offered, ?You can?t throw what you haven?t called. There?s no need to call it. Everything else is working.?
The Ocho thinks defenses will have trouble defending both Benson and the corps of receivers of himself, Laveranues Coles, Andre Caldwell and Chris Henry.
?They have to play eight in the box and that can get really scary,? Ochocinco said, ?especially with what we have right now with Laveranues and Andre. The way we?re playing right now, it?s awesome.
?I?ve always taken us as an offense with more finesse. I don?t know if that?s the right word to use, but being able to beat you with speed and to now add that element of Ced being able to have the power with the finesse along with the speed to do anything he wants at any given time. Being able to go from any point on the field to go the distance is pretty scary.?
Without Palmer for 12 games last year, the Bengals had 21 passes of at least 20 yards and two for plus 40. This year after three games with him they have six passes of 20 and one for plus-40. Everyone seems restless for a big throwing game but the passer.
?Our mindset is run first. Years ago, we used to be big-play first. The way our defense plays now, and as well as they?re holding people down to 17-20 points a game, we need to run the ball,? Palmer said. ?We need to keep them off the field, keep them fresh, so they can keep attacking and keep doing what they do. We?re still capable of the big plays, but we probably won't take as many chances as we used to because we have to control the clock and wear down the clock a little bit more and win games defensively sometimes, because were capable of doing that.
?I like whatever wins. If it wins to throw the ball 50 times a game, that?s great. If it wins to run the ball 50 times, I?m happy with that. It?s still a work in progress. Looking at game film after every week, there?s still a number of areas to improve on. I work on those during the week. But whatever wins, works.?
The Ocho and Andre Caldwell lead the team with 14 catches each, a tie for 30th in the NFL. And Caldwell, Coles and Henry are still looking for their first catch longer than 20 yards. Henry, who had four touchdown receptions in the preseason, has three catches in the first three games. But there have been no rumbles.
?The old saying, winning cures everything, kind of takes care of that,? Palmer said. ?Everybody wants to contribute more and help win; when you?re not winning, everybody thinks they should be doing more or less of this or that. Right now, we have a good group of guys with the right mindset and the right focus, and it s not about any individual player or any individual player's stats. It?s about winning.?
It?s about running. Benson is on pace to carry 352 times, the second most in Bengals history behind Rudi Johnson?s 361 in 2004. Bratkowski said they?ll start mixing in Brian Leonard and rookie Bernard Scott, but Benson isn?t worried about the load.
?I didn?t sign up for running back not to carry the football,? Benson said. ?I prepare well every week to be as fresh as I can going into every week. I would love the ball in my hands. If every play of the game or 30 times a game, so be it. ... That?s the hardest thing sometimes during the season is getting to the game. As long as you get to the game with the elements of things (such as) practice, needing to be here, be there, then you?ve done a good job.?