Bengals can't find running game

Updated: November 5, 2003, 8:10 PM ET
ESPN

CINCINNATI -- Through their dismal dozen years, the Cincinnati Bengals could be counted on to do two things: run the ball and lose the game.

They're no longer a sure bet to lose. They're no longer a sure bet to run, either.

One of the NFL's most dependable running games has gone belly-up just as the Bengals (3-5) start to move away from their sad-sack ways. With Corey Dillon slowed by a pulled groin, Cincinnati has turned into a one-dimensional team.

The offensive line is determined to change it this week.

During a meeting of the offense Wednesday, right tackle Willie Anderson urged his teammates to get back to doing the little things right so the running game gets moving again.

Heading into their game Sunday against Houston (3-5), the Bengals are rushing for an average of only 85.5 yards per game, second worst in the league. During a 17-14 loss in Arizona last Sunday, they ran the ball only 19 times and threw it 38 times.

"We have to get our coaching staff confidence to keep calling running plays," Anderson said. "If we don't give them the confidence, we're not going to run it enough and we're going to have what we had Sunday."

They may have to attempt the turnaround without a healthy Dillon, who strained his groin while making a cut during the third game of the season and hasn't fully recovered.

Dillon missed one game because of the injury and another because he was involved in an auto accident on his way to a game. He also had to come out of several others because he was so limited.

He carried only seven times for 5 yards at Arizona, and didn't play in the second half because the groin tightened. Dillon, one of only four NFL runners to top 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons, has 208 yards at the halfway point.

"We had the running game going last year," tight end Matt Schobel said. "We've had the passing game going in situations, and we've had flashes this year where we had the running game going. Once we have that balance, it's going to be tougher to stop us."

Coach Marvin Lewis wants the offensive line and tight ends to do a better job creating space for Dillon, who hasn't been able to cut as effectively.

"I think Corey feels as good as he has in a few weeks," Lewis said. "I wouldn't say he's 100 percent. We have to do a better job of providing Corey some area to run in. Also, you know that people get jacked up to play Corey. We have to find a way to get some space for Corey to get started in."

Dillon surprised his teammates by insisting two weeks ago he feels unappreciated in Cincinnati and wants out. They don't seem to be holding it against him.

"We know this guy comes to work and on Sunday he runs hard, and in the past that has ignited us," Anderson said. "When all we could do was run in parts of 1999-2000, the guy still put up 1,300 yards, and we couldn't even throw for 100 yards a game.

"That's what carries us. As soon as he's ready to go, whether he's 85 percent or 100 percent, we need him in there. We need him to be one of the leaders of this offense. If he's injured, we have to block that much better."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index