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Running game grounds Kitna

11-19-01, 12:25 a.m.


If you are the Cincinnati Bengals and you have one of the best blocking fullbacks in the NFL in Lorenzo Neal and one of the league's premier run blockers in right tackle Willie Anderson and a Pro Bowl running back in Corey Dillon with a career yards per carry average of 4.5, you have to get that one yard.

Fourth-and-one. From the Tennessee 29. With 3:15 left in the first half. You trail the Titans, 10-7.

If you are the Bengals and you are trying to stay in the AFC Central race with a 5-4 record against a team you haven't beaten in four years, you have to get that yard.

Here is the toss to Dillon running right behind Neal and Anderson. But there is Titans middle linebacker Randall Godfrey penetrating and flinging Dillon for a one-yard loss.

And the Bengals went on to lose ground in the AFC Central with Sunday's 20-7 loss to Tennessee. They are now 4-5 after their franchise player touched the ball seven more times and gained nothing or lost yardage five times. In the two games since the bye week, their vaunted offensive line that racked up an average of 123 rushing yards per the first seven games has offered just an average of 57.

But the Bengals insist their running game is not in trouble. They point to two series in the second quarter:

Dillon has just popped a six-yarder behind Anderson on third-and-three to put the ball on the Titans 17. On the next play, there is Dillon going wide right behind Anderson for another six and in a groove. That will give him 36 yards on eight carries. . . But a hold on right guard Mike Goff brings it back and shoots the drive.

On the next series, Dillon grinds up the middle for four yards on first down and then reels off seven more on the next play in the same spot. Now he's in the flow, with 41 yards on nine carries. . .but another hold on Goff.

Dillon gets four yards on nine carries the rest of the way.

"I don't think they lined up and stopped our run," Neal said. "We creased them for runs of four, five, eight yards. We shot ourselves in the foot."

And the man taking the bullets is
quarterback Jon Kitna for his three second-half turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble) and an offense that could manage just two passes of 20 yards or more against the NFL's worst pass defense.

In fact, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau was asked if he thought about turning to backup Scott Mitchell in a second half the Bengals had one drive of more than a dozen yards.

"Had we not played so well in the first half, I think I would have given it more consideration," LeBeau said.

Kitna's fate has always been tied to the running game this season, like most of the NFL quarterbacks nowadays. They can't win games single-handedly and Kitna didn't Sunday.

In the four games the Bengals

have run for at least 100 yards, Kitna has six touchdowns and five interceptions. In the five games they haven't, he's got three touchdowns and five interceptions.

Kitna had been torrid in the first half. But after Dillon took the first two snaps of the second half for 12 yards, Kitna underthrew wide receiver Darnay Scott in a deep zone and got picked off by cornerback Samari Rolle.

"I take full responsibility for what happened in the second half," Kitna said. "I think that interception took the wind out of our sails. I don't think we ever recovered. I shouldn't have taken that risk at that point in the game. We were still within a field goal. I tried to fit it into a hole and it wasn't there. I got greedy."

But where is the Bengals' running game?

"I don't think anything is wrong with it," Anderson said. ""We keep getting ourselves out of position. I think we could have run the ball on them."

Neal, upset at how this first game turned out against his old team, kept thinking about those early runs.

"I don't know if they stuffed it," said Neal of the Titans' run defense. "They took some punches, we took some punches. We had some plays going in the running game. We ran draws, lead draws. You got the premier back in the league and he gets eight, nine yards. (Then a penalty). Now it's second-and-20. How do you expect (to run the ball) with that?"

Goff, who was also called for a hold in Jacksonville last week, was clearly devastated.

"I was just trying to finish my block," Goff said. "I guess my technique was bad. (The official) thought it was, too, I have no answer. I don't think they stopped us. It was our execution."

Which is what looked to be the problem on the fourth-and-one play. But Anderson said it was what the Titans did, not what the Bengals didn't.

"They called a great play," Anderson said. "They got us. Who would think that on fourth-and-one, they would stack the outside instead of the middle? The receiver came down to crack the end of the line, but they just pulled too many guys up to block."

Which is the way it's gone the past two games for a team that has lost ground since the bye week of two weeks ago that now seems like two years ago.

"We can just break down for whatever reason on one drive to the next," Kitna said. "Or from the start of the drive to the end of the drive, we can just kind of break down and not do the things that are necessary for us to get that extra yard for a first down."

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