Bengals running in place with worst ground attack since 4-12 season of 2010

Can Rex Burkhead help?
Posted at 4:51 AM, Dec 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-04 04:51:29-05

CINCINNATI (AP) — A lot has been made of Andy Dalton's struggles in the past few games — sacks, turnovers, passes batted down.

One of the contributing factors is the Bengals' inability to run the ball, which puts the onus on the quarterback.

And if they don't get a lot more out of the running game, the quarterback is going to be a target for the rest of their lost season.

The Bengals (3-7-1) are on pace to have their least-productive season with the run since 2010, which stands as a recent reference point for bad Cincinnati running games.

Cedric Benson ran for 1,111 yards, but nobody else contributed consistently as the offense revolved around receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.

The Bengals finished 4-12 in that season, and it feels as if they're running in place again.

"We know how to do our jobs," running back Jeremy Hill said. "We just need to execute better, especially in the running game."

The Bengals host the Eagles (5-6) on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. Philadelphia's defense is ranked 17th against the run and has held three of its past four opponents to 74 yards or fewer on the ground.

The Bengals' offense has favored the pass under first-year coordinator Ken Zampese. Dalton has thrown at least 40 passes in five games — he did that only once in each of the past two seasons. His career high is six games with 40-plus passes in 2013, and he's got plenty of time to top that mark.

By contrast, the Bengals are on pace for 422 runs this season, which would be their fewest since 2008.

Cincinnati has been held under 100 yards rushing in seven of its 11 games. During a 19-14 loss in Baltimore last Sunday, the Bengals managed only 64 yards rushing — 15 of them on Dalton's scrambles. Rex Burkhead was their leading rusher with 29 yards on five carries, while Hill managed only 21 yards on 12 carries.

It won't get any easier down the stretch. Multifaceted running back Giovani Bernard tore his left ACL two weeks ago.

Receiver A.J. Green is sidelined indefinitely with a strained right hamstring, so opponents don't need to fear the passing game as much.

Burkhead, a fourth-year player, moved into a bigger role when Bernard got hurt. He carried only 13 times in his first three seasons, but will get the ball more regularly the rest of the way.

"Rex is capable of doing any role we ask him to," Zampese said. "So it's easy just to put him in there and let him have his opportunities like we did in that game."

Burkhead has been primarily a special teams player the past two seasons.

"He's a guy that has flashed in practice and hasn't had a role yet," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "It's good to see him in there getting some plays."