CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals are celebrating their 50th season.
None has been worse when it comes to their running game.
Cincinnati ranks last in the NFL in running the ball and is on pace to shatter franchise records for ineptitude on the ground. There’s no relief in sight for the fading Bengals (3-6) , who play in Denver (3-6) on Sunday.
Jeremy Hill is out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury that requires surgery, leaving it to rookie Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard to try to get yards behind a line that’s not giving them much of a chance.
There’s only so much they can change so late in the season.
“You can’t go to the triple option, right?” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “You can’t change everything in midseason. But there are things you can do, and these are NFL players so they also can adjust as you go, and that’s part coaching.”
Hill managed only 116 yards and a 3.1-yard average as Mixon grew into the role of lead runner. The second-round pick has 321 yards, a 3-yard average and all three of the Bengals’ touchdowns rushing. Giovani Bernard has 113 yards.
The line was so overwhelmed during a 23-7 loss at Jacksonville that the Bengals had only seven plays that gained yards in the second half; they lost yards on seven plays. Hill went on injured reserve before a 24-20 loss at Tennessee last Sunday.
The Bengals have converted only 2 of 18 third down plays in the past two games. They ran the ball 18 times on first down in those games and lost yards six times while being limited to 3 yards or fewer eight other times.
“What’s really been the problem is losing on first down, getting negative plays on first down,” receiver Brandon LaFell said Wednesday. “We’ve been making it third-and-long and all that dudes are doing is dropping eight guys in coverage and that’s not good for any offense.”
The Bengals are on pace to rush for 1,122 yards, easily their worst for a non-strike season. The club low for a non-strike season is 1,439 yards in 1995. Their 3.1-yard average per carry also would shatter the previous club mark of 3.6 yards.
To put their projected total of 1,122 yards rushing in perspective: Corey Dillon ran for more than that by himself in six consecutive seasons from 1997-2002 when they had a losing record each season leading up to Marvin Lewis’ arrival as head coach.
Mixon is on pace to run for 571 yards, which would be the fourth-lowest total for a lead Bengals running back in franchise history. Charlie Davis ran for 375 yards in 1974, Derrick Fenner ran for 468 yards in 1994, and Larry Kinnebrew ran for 570 yards in 1987.
The biggest problem is the offensive line, which hasn’t been able to open holes for the running backs or protect Andy Dalton, who is on pace to get sacked 44 times.
McCARRON SITS: Lewis said he’s not inclined to play backup quarterback AJ McCarron even as the Bengals fade from contention. The Bengals agreed to deal McCarron to the Browns on Oct. 31, but Cleveland didn’t get its paperwork finished before the trade deadline, scuttling the deal. Dalton has taken all the snaps this season.
INJURY UPDATE: The Bengals practiced outdoors on a rainy, 45-degree afternoon — they’re the only northern NFL team without a covered practice field.
Cornerbacks William Jackson III (toe) and Adam “Pacman” Jones (concussion) were held out, along with LaFell (knee). Defensive lineman Michael Johnson (back) and safety Shawn Williams (hamstring) were among those limited.