Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Will the Bengals try to run the ball against the Steelers? That is the question.

Finally, the Cincinnati Bengals seem to be committed to the run.

We'll see if that continues on Sunday at Heinz Field. For some reason, you will recall, the Bengals gave the ball to their running backs only 14 times during the Steelers' 42-21 win at Cincinnati on Dec. 7th.

Running back Jeremy Hill vs. the Broncos on Monday night
On Monday night vs. the Denver Broncos, the Bengals ran the ball 37 times for 207 yards.

Rookie Jeremy Hill gained 147 yards, including 85 yards on one touchdown burst.

The previous week, vs. Cleveland, the Bengals racked up 244 yards on the ground.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been paying lip service to the importance of the run since before training camp began in July, but the Bengals didn't start to truly run the ball in earnest until mid-November -- with the notable exception of the game against the Steelers.

Clearly, running the ball well helps quarterback Andy Dalton: Monday night's win over the Broncos made Dalton 29-3-1 when Cincinnati has at least 30 rushes in a game.


  • Against New Orleans (a win), they ran the ball 36 times. 
  • Against Houston (a win), they ran the ball 43 times. 
  • Against Cleveland (a win), they ran the ball 45 times. 
  • Against Pittsburgh (a loss) their top two running backs got the ball only 14 times.

Clearly, running the ball is a formula for winning, so ... one would think the Bengals will want to run the ball against the Steelers next Sunday night.

Whether they will be able to or not, remains to be seen

Footnote from the "Stupid Comments by a Player" Category 

Players will believe what they want to believe and will look for motivation where they can find it.

After Monday night's game, Cincinnati defensive end Wallace Gilberry said, “I heard before the game they moved our game Sunday (against Pittsburgh) to a late night game because they don’t have much confidence in us. We take that as a slap in the face and it’s up to us to — I’m not going to say prove anybody wrong because we put the work in all week and we know what we’re capable of doing — it’s just a matter of going out and doing it.”

Hey, moron, the NFL moved Sunday's game to prime time because it is considered an attractive, compelling matchup between two winning teams who have a lot at stake, not because moving the game was intended as a "slap in the face" to one team or the other. Simpleton.

Things have changed

It was only on Dec. 7th that the Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 42-21, at Paul Brown Stadium. It seems long ago, however, and it feels like a lot has happened since then.

That win was the first of a three-game resurgence that has the Steelers on the verge of winning the AFC North Division title -- if the Steelers can defeat the Bengals again at Heinz Field on Sunday night.

Since that Dec. 7th win in Cincinnati, the Steelers beat the Falcons in Atlanta, 27-20, and the Chiefs in Pittsburgh, 20-12. The Bengals demolished the Johnny Manziel-led Browns, 30-0, in Cleveland, and beat the Peyton Manning-led Broncos, 37-28, in Cincinnati on a rain-slogged Monday night.

Reviewing the arc of this season's trajectory, the Steelers seem to have solidified their game following what had been an uneven, up-and-down pattern leading to the Dec. 7th game in Cincinnati. A few weeks before that, it's fair to say that after the Steelers had hit their high-water mark of the season with lopsided wins over the Colts and Ravens, in which Ben Roethlisberger shredded the record books.

Then, the Steelers went into a down phase for the four weeks between those two victories and that key win over the Bengals.  In those four weeks, the Steelers: (1) lost to the woebegone New York Jets; (2) eked out a 27-24 win over the dreadful Tennessee Titans; (3) had a bye week; and (4) coming off the bye week, looked flat and unprepared as they lost, 35-32, to a bad New Orleans Saints team at Heinz Field.

It was at that point that Joey Porter's Pit Bulls said, "Stick a fork in 'em; they're done." To the Steelers' credit, however, they weren't done, and we are very happy about that.

Le'Veon Bell, scoring against the Bengals, Dec. 7th
The resurgence started with the win over Cincinnati, which was a game the Bengals knew that if they won, they would have buried the Steelers right then and there.

Instead, the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell ran for 185 yards and 7.1 yards per carry. Ben Roethlisberger, hampered by some sort of hand or wrist injury, often lined up in the short shotgun (pistol) formation with Bell behind him. And the Steelers repeatedly ran the counter sweep with David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey pulling behind Heath Miller and/or Matt Spaeth to clear lanes for Bell to find open lanes or simply trample Bengals defenders.

It was a good formula, and it worked well.  Whether they Steelers will reprise that game plan remains to be seen.

One thing we can count on with some reasonable of assurance, is that the Bengals will most definitely not use the same offensive game plan they employed vs. the Steelers the first time around.

In that Dec. 7th meeting, Bengals running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard combined for just 14 carries, with Hill gaining only 46 yards on eight carries. This, despite Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson adamantly insisting all during training camp that the Bengals were "committed to the run." Fourteen carries is not "committed to the run." The Steelers won by 21 points.

Jeremy Hill, running vs. the Broncos on Monday night
Since then, however, the Bengals have shown more consistency and commitment running the ball with regularity and success. Jeremy Hill has gotten the bulk of the carries, and he racked up 147 yards on the ground vs. Cleveland.

Now averaging 5.1 yards per carry for the season, the rookie from LSU also ran for 146 yards, including an 85-yard dash, on Monday night vs. the Broncos.

That last performance was the fourth time this year that Hill racked up at least 140 yards rushing, making him only the third rookie in NFL history to do that. He's making a case for Rookie of the Year.

We can expect to see a lot of Hill and Bernard on Sunday night.