Posted: 7:20 a.m.
The subject is the running game. It has always been the running game. On Sunday quarterback Carson Palmer handed the ball off to his 17th 100-yard rusher of his career and saw his record go to 14-3 in those games.
And for the 10th time in those games Palmer hit a passer rating of at least 90. After throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions in the 31-24 win over the Packers, he now has 38 touchdowns and 28 interceptions in a 100-yard rushing game whether it is Rudi Johnson (14), Kenny Watson (2) or Cedric Benson (1).
Benson got his first one with Palmer on Sunday with 141 yards on 29 carries and he couldn't help notice how open wide receiver Laveranues Coles came on the first touchdown, a five-yarder off play-action. Or how wide receiver Chad Ochocinco almost broke a 44-yard catch for a touchdown after Benson shoveled a handoff back to Palmer on a flea-flicker.
"Safeties bit. Linebackers bit. Picture perfect," Benson said Monday. "The flea-flicker. Picture perfect. The running game creates opportunities."
After the game Palmer talked about how the offense feeds off Benson's toughness and intensity and on Monday, Benson talked about how much that confidence means to him.
"He's always talked about how excited he is that I'm here; yesterday was good evidence why," Benson said. "I think it does take a little pressure off him having a strong running game like we had."
Benson flashed the blend of punishing elusiveness that marked his college career at Texas and convinced the Bears to take him with the fourth pick in the 2005 draft. If there had been questions about his ability to make tacklers miss, it surprised him.
"No reason for anybody to doubt that," Benson said. "Most of my career there's been a lot of guys in the box. Most times teams know I'm going to get the ball and run hard. I think defenses get excited to play me.
"The reason (I) make those guys miss is our guys, our receivers, our offensive line is just giving an extra effort to create some space to dance. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and roll people over and there are times there's a little space."
Benson had a reason why the Bengals had success on the ground a week after they averaged 3.2 yards per carry in the loss to Denver. In the second half in the opener they ran it seven times. On Sunday they ran it 20 times in the second half after just 14 carries in the first half.
"We had a great first half, I thought, last week in the run game," Benson said. "We didn't get a lot of breaks like we always want, but that's NFL football for you. I think one of the main keys to this one is in the second half we stayed with it and stayed with some of the things that worked for us in the first half. We kept pounding and putting the pressure on. Last week we may have shied away from it in the second half. That could have been the difference."
With the Steelers' perennial No. 1 rush defense headed to town Sunday, the back story is how the Bengals have faced 3-4 defenses in the first two games and how Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers deployed a near carbon copy of the scheme.
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski didn't call it exact, but similar. Supposedly there are more creases to get a running game going in a 3-4, but the Bengals haven't been able to find them in a Pittsburgh set. They haven't had a 100-yard rusher against the Steelers since Palmer's first start against Pittsburgh on Oct. 3, 2004, a 28-17 loss.
Asked if he finds more room in a 3-4, Benson isn't so sure about that because he knows zone plays work well against a 4-3. He did seem to have success looking to the perimeter on Sunday.
"Largely those were outside runs. I don't know if that's because they have a two linebacker set instead of three or because the ends plays so wide. I don't know. I guess we'll find out when we play a 4-3."
That would be Benson's old Bears and not until Oct. 25 and Bratkowski admitted the heavy 3-4 diet is going to help his team's focus. But he's focusing on his own running game and that means helping his young tight ends, Daniel Coats and J.P. Foschi.
Bratkowski has been using Dennis Roland, a 6-9 tackle, as an extra tight end. But Roland, who played in his fourth NFL game Sunday in Green Bay, has also played well enough that he's rotating at right tackle with Anthony Collins.
"Dennis has done well and we wanted to see what he could do and AC needed to improve," Bratkowski said. "We wanted to give Dennis some snaps and give him a chance to go in and see what he can do. ... We're working around the situation that we're in trying to create different looks for the defense and give some help to our tight ends. Because J.P. and Dan are doing a decent job. We're just going to rotate and do some different things so it's not always dependent on them."
The numbers were good as the Bengals rushed for 151 yards and converted three out of four 3rd-and-2s or less by running the ball out of a formation that often had Roland at tight end and eligible to catch.
But he's there to block. Roland, the tallest Bengal in history, was part of a big rushing day in his only start, the '08 finale against the Chiefs in which the Bengals went for 204 yards. He came out of Georgia undrafted in 2006 and banged around with Dallas and Tampa Bay before the Bengals picked him on waivers right before the '08 season.
Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander said that Roland has impressed with his smarts and his dogged work at making sure his height isn't hurting his leverage.
"That's not a problem anymore," Alexander said. "He's a smart guy, a coach's son, and he does whatever is asked. Will we see him again? Who knows? That was one game. You know what we like to say: If you want to find out, get a ticket."
Seriously, Alexander isn't laughing about three holding calls on the line. Lewis indicated the Bengals are grappling with a higher standard this year, but Alexander called all three Sunday "legit. I don't have a problem with any of them," he said. "They were all caused by poor footwork and we have to clean it up."