Ravens at Bengals, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS (pending sellout), 102.7, 104.7, 700
The Cincinnati Bengals ran for 14 yards Sunday at Pittsburgh, the second-lowest total in franchise history, but the performance is not setting off alarms in the locker room.
“I think they had a great gameplan for us, and we just didn’t get the looks that we liked,” Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said of the Steelers, who routinely packed the box with eight or nine players.
“(Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick) LeBeau did a great job taking away what he wanted to take away,” Bengals center Kyle Cook added. “We have five guys, a tight end and a fullback and they bring eight, nine guys down in the box. There’s only so much you can do.”
BenJarvus Green-Ellis accounted for all 14 yards on 15 carries, while wide receiver Marvin Jones had one rush for no gain. Six of Green-Ellis’ carries went for negative yards or no gain, and his longest rush of the day was 4 yards.
“They have a great defense, and they had a solid gameplan,” rookie guard Kevin Zeitler said. “But we can’t accept that. We need to run the ball, especially this time of year. So we’re going to do whatever we can to get it going.”
The running game actually had been clicking pretty well, with Green-Ellis topping 100 yards four times in the five games prior to Sunday’s trip to Heinz Field. The Bengals entered the game ranked 11th in the NFL at 120.3 yards per game, with Green-Ellis’ 1,080 marking his career high.
“We had some success running the ball the last four or five games,” Gruden said. “We’re not going to give up on it by any stretch. We’ve got to keep battling away and try to find ways to get some lanes and alleys. We’ll do the best we can as a staff to try to find those ways to run the ball.”
The Bengals are 4-0 when Green-Ellis rushes for more than 100 yards, and they are 5-2 when they top 100 yards as a team.
One of those two losses, however, came in the season opener against Baltimore, the team they face Sunday.
Cincinnati rushed for 129 yards in that 44-13 loss Sept. 10, marking the fifth time in the last seven games they have topped 100 against a Ravens team that currently ranks a surprising 24th against the run, allowing 127.9 yards per game.
In that first game, Zeitler was making his first NFL start, left guard Clint Boling was making his fourth and center Jeff Faine and Green-Ellis were making their Bengals debuts.
The line has been in flux ever since. Faine eventually was replaced by rookie Trevor Robinson, who held the spot until Cook returned from an ankle injury three weeks ago, with the two splitting time the first two games before Cook played all 64 snaps Sunday.
“We had two new guards come in, I get injured, and by the time I come back their game has elevated,” Cook said. “It’s working out good. They’ve done a heck of a job this year.”
But they are going to have to get better if the Bengals are going to go anywhere in the postseason. And it starts Sunday against the Ravens.
“We do have to try to establish some kind of running game going into the playoffs,” Gruden said. “We’d like to try to do that, but we have to take what the defense gives us, too. If they want to load it up, we have to be able to throw it.
“Hats off to Pittsburgh,” he continued. “They’re a great run defense, and Baltimore’s the same type of defense, physicality up front. So it will be a great challenge, but one we’re not going to back away from.”