Running game in place

10-15-01, 4:45 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau has never stopped saying it since he took over 18 games ago.

"Corey (Dillon) is who we are," LeBeau said after Sunday's 24-14 win over the Browns. "I would say he made (140 yards) today and probably 60 of those yards came after first contact. He finishes the run and runs the football very hard. That is what we are all about."

After Dillon enjoyed his best game of the year with 140 yards on a season-high 31 carries, the stats validated the LeBeau Theory of Dillontivity.

The Bengals are now 15-5 when Dillon carries 22 or more times. They are 12-8 when he rushes for 100 yards, 9-1 when he rushes for 125 or more, and 8-0 when he hits 130. He's also averaging 110 yards in 11 Paul Brown Stadium games.

But if Dillon is who the Bengals are, then his offensive line is who Dillon is. After leading him to three straight games in which he failed to average more than 4.1 yards per carry for just the second time in his career, the line vowed after last Sunday to flex its muscles. The reward for a week of basic training was a dominating 16-play drive that chewed 7:25 off the fourth quarter.

"You pray for a drive like that," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "As a lineman, to be able to get a seven and half minute drive late in the game is what you dream about having. Being able to keep that defense on the sidelines and see your defense over there so long that they're sitting on the bench instead of leaning over saying, 'Oh no, three and out.'"

Anderson said the line worked on training-camp technique in preparing for the Browns. The beefy Bengals wanted to get back to their game of leverage, stop playing so high and "play to the whistle and finish your blocks," as well as returning to the base zone off tackle plays.

While Dillon gained 62 yards on 14 carries in the first half, the line became frustrated at their inability to free Dillon from one man tripping him up. Usually it was a linebacker, but Anderson praised line coach Paul Alexander and running backs coach Jim Anderson for adjusting at

halftime.

"They were giving us a different look," Anderson said. "They were stacking people over where we can't get to, and when we (came) off, the linebackers were making the tackle because they weren't blocked.

"The back-side guy (had to be) blocking the linebackers and safeties," Anderson said. "The back side with Corey immediately can become the front side. . .because he can be going right and then cut it back left. Basically, you get in trouble if you don't run down field."

Anderson and Dillon said another key to the running game was the draw play, which came out of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's attempt at running out of passing formations and passing out of running formations.

A prime example came on Dillon's five-yard touchdown run 43 seconds into the fourth quarter on third-and-five. The Bengals spread the field with four wide receivers, which took the linebacker who had been
bracketing receiver Peter Warrick in the slot out of the box. The line was then able to account for those in the box and Dillon pushed up the middle for the icing touchdown.

"We did a little bit of everything today," Dillon said. "It was more balanced and that kept them off-balanced. We got them up and out of the middle by spreading and it was a nice day of work."

When Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham mentioned to Dillon in a post-game interview that some people wondered where he'd gone the past few weeks, Dillon said, "Hello. I'm here."

KICKING IT AROUND: Say this for Neil Rackers. His 42-yard field goal with 6:28 left in the third quarter to give the Bengals a 13-7 lead was as clutch as it was surprising because if he missed, he might have been in trouble.

He still might be after ending the first half in a hail of boos when he pushed a 22-yarder to the right for his fifth miss in his last six tries.

The timing between Rackers, holder Nick Harris and snapper Brad St. Louis appeared to be screwed up when Harris had to take the snap down from his shoulder and bobbled it slightly.

"If I can I'd like to apologize to Nick Harris for the way I reacted after that kick," Rackers said.

Harris shrugged and said, "We're buddies, you know. How long was that kick? Anybody would be upset missing a (22-yarder). Whatever. Just talk to Neil about it."

Actually, running back Corey Dillon talked about it

because he gave Rackers a pep talk at half time.

"Not to put down a teammate or anything like that," Dillon said, "but it was a bobbled (ball) by the holder and I just wanted to share with him (and say) 'Hey, things happen. People are going to make mistakes. Block it out, suck it up (because) we're going to need you to make some extra points in the second half.' And he came out and that's what he did."

Rackers said he stopped trying to be so quick to the ball when he lined up the 42-yarder.

"I wanted to slow down so that he had time to get the ball down and I wouldn't be on top of him as soon as the ball was on the ground," Rackers said. "l slowed down little bit so I knew where the ball would be."

Rackers said on the miss, the hold got down late and "I got through it and it went off the toe. That's when I decided to slow down."

Harris said he knew the 42-yarder was money.

"It seemed easy to me," Harris said. "He was relaxed, he didn't come through fast and it went straight through. It was like an aura out there, I knew he was going to make it."

**

HEATH (JR.) OUT:** Bengals starting left cornerback Rodney Heath looks to be lost for the season with a complete hamstring tear in his left leg. Even if he doesn't need surgery, trainer Paul Sparling said it's unlikely he'll return at all this season.

But Heath is holding out slight hope because Sparling is setting up a visit with the North Carolina doctor whom examined Ken Griffey Jr.'s hamstring problem early in the baseball season.

In fact, Heath got a call Sunday night from Griffey agent Brian Goldberg recommending the same doctor Sparling already sought. Goldberg used to represent Heath's brother,

Lee, a former Atlanta Braves' farmhand.

The replay of Heath getting hurt with 6:45 left in the first quarter brought gasps from the crowd when it saw his left leg suddenly stretch awkwardly and get buried by bodies. He was moving in to help tackle Browns running back James Jackson on a sweep.

"My left leg just went out from under me," Heath said. "The field was wet from the rain, it was slick. I almost went in before the game to get longer screws, but I didn't have any problem in pregame. P>"That's what is surprising," Heath said. "I don't know what happened. My leg just gave out and I knew the minute somebody fell on it, that was it."

THIS AND THAT: The Bengals thought they got a huge break when they had just taken a 13-7 lead midway through the third quarter and Ben Gay tried to run a Neil Rackers' kickoff out of the end zone.

The Bengals thought his teammate failed to stop him before Gay knelt down just behind the goal line for a touchback. The Bengals thought they had a safety, a 15-7 lead, and the ball. But they lost the challenge.

"To get a safety, (the ball) has to break the plane to break the plane. ... The entire ball has to be out of the plane of the end zone," said referee Mike Carey. . .

Defensive tackle Tony Williams is headed to Seattle to see a foot/ankle specialist and determine if his mid-foot sprain needs season-ending surgery. Williams is supposed to be back for the Nov. 11 game in Jacksonville. . .

Long snapper Brad St. Louis struggled some Sunday, such as on some field-goal snaps. It could be because of lower abdominal pain and he'll be checked for a hernia Monday. Sparling said St. Louis says he'll play if he can with the hernia. If he can't, he'll have season-ending surgery.

**

HANGING CHAD:** With rookie wide receiver Chad Johnson out for six weeks with a broken left collarbone, receivers coach Steve Mooshagian is looking for Ron Dugans and Danny Farmer to step into the No. 3 role. Neither have the speed of Johnson, but Mooshagian said, "Farmer is one of the brightest guys we've got and Dugans is doing well. Both of

these guys are reliable."

Dugans made a leaping catch on a two-point conversion Sunday and has been a standout special-teamer.

Sparling said six weeks is the time frame if there are no complications for Johnson's return, which would bring him back in time for the Nov. 25 rematch in Cleveland because they have a bye Nov. 4.

"He'll be fine and he'll be back for Tampa Bay," said Mooshagian of the Dec. 2 game at PBS that pits Johnson against cousin Keyshawn Johnson.

Sparling said surgery doesn't appear to be imminent on Johnson's shoulder.

"I'm counting on being back in four weeks and maybe two," Johnson said.

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