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Vets like the feel of run game

Bengals new right tackle Eric Winston knows a thing or two about being on teams that can run the ball.

During his last two years with the Texans in 2010 and 2011, they were No. 7 and No. 2 in the NFL in rushing. When he went to Kansas City the next year, the Chiefs finished fifth.

Now after coming off his first extended action in his two weeks as a Bengal with 33 snaps in the second half in Cleveland, it confirmed what he thought.

 "Even when I wasn't here, you noticed that this offense is at its best when it's running the ball effectively. It's able to get play-actions deep to A.J. (Green) and to Mohamed (Sanu) and those guys," Winston said Tuesday. "I think if that's who we're going to be then that's who we need to be every week. Even though it is a week-to-week league you can always carry your things with you from that week and carry things over. We definitely need to be able to carry that kind of running game over… It has to be the badge you wear every week. I think that's when we're at our best."

You heard right.  That is the president of the NFL Players Association speaking at his locker on a Tuesday, usually the mandated off day. But with the Bengals playing the Broncos Monday night (8:30-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and ESPN), the Bengals' off days this week are Monday and Wednesday with an extended walk-through and meetings sandwiched in on Tuesday.

The conversation couldn't help but center around the Bengals' bruising running game that produced 244 rushing yards in Cleveland, their most in 10 years.

"A lot of teams pay lip service to it but there are not a lot of teams that are willing to do what it takes to do that every week," Winston said. "I think this team has shown that it's willing to make the commitment from play calling and willing to make the commitment from the guys' standpoint of being in the physical shape and be in the mindset to accomplish that."

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has to love that. Another experienced NFL tackle with skins on the wall in the run game urging the Bengals to stay in their own skin and run the ball into the playoffs. It also sets up a collision with the Broncos' second-ranked run defense.

"I think we've run the ball better than it's been perceived throughout the season,' Whitworth said.  "Even early in the year we won some games running the ball and the yards per carry weren't high, but that had more to do with the fact we were squatting on the football for the last half of the game.

"We've been a team that, honestly, the running game has put us in the situation we've been in and we need to continue to believe in it and let it be a part of who we are."

The running game's yards per average is now at 4.3, which would be the highest in head coach Marvin Lewis' 12 seasons and the highest since running back Corey Dillon fueled a 4.7 in 2000. Winston is impressed how the Bengals put together a physical bunch.

"I think they've been dedicated to being a physical group around here for a long time," Winston said. "Andrew Whitworth and obviously they've put draft picks in; (Kevin) Zeitler is a first-round guy and (Clint) Boling has turned into a real good player. Andre Smith is another first-rounder. I think that shows you the commitment from the top that they have to wanting to make sure they have a talented and good offensive line"

Winston, who is here because of Smith's season-ending triceps injury, came out of Sunday's game as a walking exhibit of why training camps are on the endangered species list. After getting cut by Seattle at the end of the preseason, Winston didn't get into pads again until Dec. 3 in Cincinnati. On Sunday he was part of an offensive line that hammered the ball at Cleveland well enough to produce a touchdown drive of 8:44 at the end of the game.

So that cardio program must have been pretty good. Asked if he was huffing and puffing after his block helped spring running back Rex Burkhead's 10-yard touchdown run, he laughed.

"If you weren't, you weren't doing it right," Winston said. "These past couple of weeks at practice I've tried to push it on scout team and get as many reps as I can and try to finish every play, and do things like that. And then in here, get on the bike a few more times and things like that. But like I said, I worked hard before I got here, too. So it wasn't like I was coming off the couch. I wanted to stay in shape that if I did get the call, I wanted to contribute.

"I was surprised actually a little bit because I'd worked real hard and I'd tried to maintain a level of playing shape where if I had to come in somewhere and I had to come in and play I wouldn't be dragging (butt) around. I was happy with how it was, and playing in the game for a long period of time Sunday I was happy with where I was at. I think another week of pushing it and I'll be good to go."

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