Monday, September 29, 1997
Bengals run down, run over

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bill Parcells' playbook is as straightforward as a punch in the nose. The Big Tuna will run the ball until you stop him, and then he will run it some more, just to make sure.

The head coach of the New York Jets operates on a primal football premise: If you can't stop the run, all else is irrelevant. He who controls the ground need never go to the air. This simple message should have resonated with the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday.

Parcells' Jets shoved the ball so deep down Bengal throats, it was a wonder Adrian Murrell did not get stuck in someone's esophagus. In their latest encounter with smash-mouth football, the Bengals were shoved around like so many shopping carts. The Jets prevailed, 31-14, and it was not nearly that close.

''You guys deserve to say anything you can possibly think of about us,'' defensive end Dan Wilkinson told reporters. ''We deserve it ... They didn't knock us off the ball, but there sure were a lot of holes out there.''

One week after being trampled by Denver's Terrell Davis, the Bengals confronted Murrell as if he were contagious. The Jets' running back gained 156 yards on 40 carries from scrimmage, keeping the chains moving and the Bengal offense confined to the sidelines.

The Bengals couldn't stop him with their zone blitz scheme. They didn't stop him with an eight-man line. They knew he was coming, and they still couldn't slow him down. It was as if someone had attached ball bearings to the bottom of their cleats.

More to come

And guess what? Everyone the Bengals play from now on is going to see this film and salivate.

''It's not going to get any easier,'' linebacker Ricardo McDonald admitted. ''The next opponent (Jacksonville) is going to do the same thing - run the ball. Until we prove we can stop it, why would you do anything else?''

Offense is about execution. Defense depends on desire. That the Bengals' run defense ranked 29th out of 30 NFL teams when the week's games began was disturbing. If the trouble is not a lack of talent - but a lack of interest - that's disheartening.

Bengals coach Bruce Coslet bemoaned his team's lack of emotion Sunday, but the problem might go deeper than a single flat Sunday. For all their high draft choices, the Bengals don't show a lot of passion on defense. When they do, it is often after some insignificant individual play made after the game is out of reach. They don't always convey a strong sense that they give a damn.

''I don't think everybody cares about winning,'' Wilkinson said, bluntly. ''I think some people - and it's very few - take things for granted.''

Little intensity

It wasn't the quiet of the dressing room that enabled Wilkinson's words to echo after the game. It was shared perception.

''The guys on this team individually - some want to play, some don't,'' cornerback Corey Sawyer said. ''When you have 11 guys going out on the field, you've got to have 11 that want to play. You can't have three who want to play and five who don't. You can't have that.''

Sawyer declined to estimate how many of his teammates do and don't want to play but volunteered: ''It's not the same ones every week. Trust me.''

Said Ashley Ambrose, the Pro Bowl cornerback: ''If we were motivated and wanted to play, we'd be winning. We wouldn't be getting beat like we're getting beat. We have a job, and when we can be committed to our job, we'll be OK on Sunday. When we're not committed to our job during the week, we won't win.

''Maybe it's a lack of effort. Somebody might be running the ball on the other side (of the field), and you've got to get there. If you're on the opposite side of the field, you've got to run - haul butt - over there. It changes the score. I might be the last person on defense. He might break all the tackles. We have to get everybody to the ball defensively.''

This is pretty basic stuff, but the Bengals have yet to get it straight. If you can't stop the run, you might as well start over.