KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is known as a stickler for game-plan details, so during this past week he stopped head coach Marvin Lewis in the locker room for a quick review of the offense's three goals for Sunday's game against the Chiefs.
"Coach, I know two of them and I'm trying to remember that third one," Green-Ellis said, and it turned out that two out of three ain't bad because with BJGE's help the Bengals reached 100 yards rushing with no turnovers in the 28-6 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Bengals didn't reach 45 percent converting third downs when they only went four of 14. But it doesn't matter when you hit 100 percent on three fourth-down tries and have your biggest rushing day in 47 games and nearly three years with 189 yards on 38 carries. Green-Ellis celebrated his first 100-yard day as a Bengal (101 on 25 carries) and the team's first dating back to Nov. 27 last year by talking about the upcoming Wednesday's practice.
"We're starting to impose our will a little bit and that's what you have to do in the run game," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said after another command performance against an elite pass rusher. "We're having people confident, having people where they're supposed to be and I think it's really helping us."
Lewis prefers the intramural discussion of goals and will because he doesn't want his players thinking about anybody else. Suddenly the Bengals are the AFC's only 5-5 team after winning two straight and are a game back in the wild card chase behind the 6-4 Steelers and Colts with six games left and the tiebreakers daunting but not mathematically impossible.
"We can't worry about things going on around us," Lewis said. "We just have to take care of us. By taking care of the ball and playing sound on defense and the kicking game, that takes care of us."
He should have added the running game because, don't kid yourself; Lewis is a devout AFC North believer in how a solid running game makes everything around it better. And Lewis's best player can sense it even though he catches the ball for a living and, at the moment, better than anyone in the game.
"I feel like everybody is playing well in all three phases," wide receiver A.J. Green said after another YouTube touchdown catch. "This is the time you want to get momentum on your side heading into the playoffs. You saw what the Giants did last year. We feel like we're the same kind of team. That we can go on a roll and make something happen."
Green made it happen as he made the Chiefs bounce in and out of coverages. Remember, Kansas City head coach Romeo Crennel is the same guy that as head coach of the Browns formed a Cover 2 that was the most frustrating and effective AFC North defense against the Bengals in the Carson-Chad-T.J. heyday of 2005-06.
But this time the Bengals had Green, tight end Jermaine Gresham, and a commitment to the run. In the biggest running game of the 26-game era of Green and Dalton, the Bengals piled up their most rushing attempts since the next-to-last game of the 2010 season,
"The big key is today we ran the ball," Green said. "Some time they had to get out of that Cover 2 look. And that gave some opportunity to get the ball downfield for me."
Green thought his 40-yard bomb down the right sideline early in the second quarter came against quarters coverage. Then he said the Chiefs switched to Cover 2, and with Gresham mauling Kansas City in the middle for 69 yards on six catches, Green-Ellis saw the safety moving into the box on the weak side in the second half and he said the Bengals "were still able to make plays."
The way Whitworth saw it, "We threw it early and got ourselves a lead and we were able to pound it out."
The Bengals went up early and opened up the running game with the help of the incomparable Green. He gave them the lead for good late in the first quarter when he somehow caught a four-yard fade for a touchdown in a double coverage maze when Dalton threw it where only Green could get it, which turned out to be inches inbounds as he somehow clung to the ball two-stepping with geometry.
But then, Green inventing his own angles is now becoming commonplace. Just ask cornerback Javier Arenas and safety Kendrick Lewis. Geometry combined with physics since the 6-4 Green's advantage over the 5-9 Arenas played into the snap that gave Green the club season record for nine straight games with a touchdown catch.
"The craziest thing is they rotated to my side real late," Green said. "I was lucky enough that Andy threw the ball in a place where I could only make the play … the corner had outside leverage. I just tried to give him a little move at the line and got past him and I saw the ball and I saw the safety getting over the top. And it was in a great spot."
The box score line is becoming ho-hum typical. The final count was one TD, 91 yards, six catches, and bottomless humility.
"What was that record again?" he asked. "Oh, good."
Dalton had another alert and accurate day, posting his second straight triple-digit passer rating with no interceptions and two more touchdown passes to give him 20, tying last year's mark. He was sacked twice, once by Chiefs sack ace Tamba Hali. But they were both of the coverage variety as Whitworth outmuscled the dangerous Hali all day on the pass rush and made certain he didn't knock out a second AFC North quarterback in six days.
It's no coincidence that Cincinnati's two best running games of the year this week and last have fused with red zone success.
In his last eight trips inside the 20-yard line starting with last week's arrow route to slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, Dalton has produced seven touchdowns with four touchdown passes and he took one in himself on fourth and less than a yard on an untouched play-action keeper Sunday.
"We got a lot of good looks to run it. It was great for us to come out and have the game that we did. Benny getting over 100 yards, that was our goal going in, to get 100 yards rushing, and we came out and executed," Dalton said. "I think this week we really emphasized it. We wanted to get the running game going and we did. We challenged everybody up front, as well as the backs, and we did a great job."
Not only did Green-Ellis break the barrier, but little used Cedric Peerman is no longer little used and is turning into a nice change-of-pace back with a career-high 75 yards. Yes, one came on a 32-yarder off a fake punt, but he still got six yards per carry from scrimmage on seven other rushes for 43 yards.
"He gives us some speed; he's a tough guy that runs hard," Whitworth said. "People don't see it, but I thought since the Pittsburgh game (Oct. 21) that we've run the ball efficiently. Maybe not a lot, but efficiently."
The offense is getting into sync with rookie center Trevor Robinson, who made his third start Sunday, first on the road and first against one of those massive 3-4 nose tackles. But Chiefs first-round pick Dontari Poe had just two tackles and the 346-pound Poe's one quarterback hit (of Kansas City's total of three) came on the first series off a stunt, and that appeared to get cleared up because it didn't happen again.
"It was a chore for me all day," the 305-pound Robinson said. "He's a good player. I gave him 50 pounds. You have to be quicker. You have to try and mix up things on him to make sure he's feeling something different a little bit. He's a much stronger guy. If you try to be as strong as a guy stronger than you, you run into trouble. So you have to be the quicker guy."
As usual, Green-Ellis didn't much care that he had his first 100-yard game since getting 136 for the Patriots on Oct. 9, 2011 against the Jets.
"I don't care whatever it is," BJGE said. "100, 200, 25, 80. As long as we win I'm happy with it."
A lot of times, the running game isn't about the numbers.
"You hear a lot about being balanced," Robinson said. "That doesn't mean running and throwing the ball the same amount of time. It means being able to do what you need to do to win the game. If they give you looks that let you run the ball, you better be able to run the ball. Same thing when they stack guys in the box. You have to be able to throw the ball."
With Green and Dalton, the Bengals can certainly throw it. The run is what worries them over the last six games.
"I don't think about runs," BJGE said when asked about going on a winning streak. "I think about one day at a time, one game at a time. I'm excited to get back to practice Wednesday and focus on the Oakland Raiders."
No doubt Lewis going to agree with him the next time he sees him in the locker room.