Fay: Most of last year's offensive line is back, so why can't the Bengals run the ball?
They'd better get it together for the Broncos' D
John Fay | WCPO contributor
8:00 AM, Sep 23, 2016
CINCINNATI -- The Bengals are 1-1. The loss came on the road to Pittsburgh, and the Bengal comeback was stifled by what may well have been a bad call by the referees.
Nonetheless, Bengals fans are a worried bunch right now.
Why? The Bengals haven't been able to run the ball effectively, and they haven't been able to turn red-zone chances into touchdowns. That is a formula for failure in the National Football League.
With the Denver Broncos, who won the Super Bowl largely with defense last year, coming in Sunday, the Bengals had better be able to run the ball effectively or Von Miller is going make Andy Dalton's life miserable.
The Bengals know this.
"We want to see improvements in the run game," Dalton said. "It's a point of emphasis. We haven't run the ball how we wanted to."
The Bengals rushed for 127 yards in their first game last year and 175 yards in their second game. This year, they rushed for 57 in the first game and 46 in the second.
The 51.5 average yards is 31st in the NFL. The Bengals are averaging 2.8 yards per carry, down from 3.9 a year ago.
The offensive line is obviously a key to the running game. Four of the five starters from last year are back. Cedric Ogbuehi, who replaced Andre Smith at right tackle, has graded out well so far. Pro Football Focus rates him at 77.5, which is just a tick above average. The line as a whole grades out well, according to PFF. Only center Russell Bodine rates below average. He rates poor at 56.2.
So why the struggles?
The blame is shared.
"You've got to get everyone on the same page," Dalton said. "That's where you get the explosive runs."
"It's a combination of things," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "At times, it's one of us here, one of us there. The games haven't really presented themselves where we've run it a lot. I don't think we have a ton of carries. I'm not sure of the stats. We've been behind. In those situations, you start throwing the ball a little more."
"It's the nature of some of the games," he said. "That's what it's come down to. I don't think we're going to go into a game where we're going to say we're going to throw the ball 50-plus times. We're going to do whatever we think we can do to win. It's not going to be the same every week."
The lack of a running game has hurt the Bengals in the red zone. In six trips to the red zone, they've scored one touchdown and five field goals. Last year, they scored six touchdowns in eight red-zone trips through two games.
They may get a boost this week. Tyler Eifert practiced Wednesday for the first time since ankle surgery, so he could play Sunday. Eifert was Dalton's go-to guy in crucial situations last year.
Eifert isn't sure whether he'll play or not, but, by practicing, he made it a possibility.
"Everything is going according to plan," Eifert said. "Sometimes you progress really fast and then you hit a plateau and can't get over the hump. I haven't experienced that at all. I just continue to get better. Pretty soon, I'll be back out there."
The Bengals face a tough task in getting the running game going. Denver is one of the NFL's premier defenses. The Broncos allowed only 83.6 yards per game rushing last year, third best in the NFL.
Denver's defensive star, linebacker Von Miller, is generally considered the league's best defender. He has four sacks in two games.
Ogbuehi is the guy charged with slowing Miller down.
"He is probably the best player right now," Ogbuehi said. "For me, it's a great test to see where I'm at. I'm excited for it. This is why they drafted me. To block guys like him."