The run game that carried the Cincinnati Bengals through the month of December and was supposed to take them beyond the first weekend in January was ineffective in the first half and abandoned in the second half Sunday in a 26-10 AFC Wild-Card loss at Indianapolis.
Rookie running back Jeremy Hill, who came into the game with three consecutive 100-yard games and led the NFL in rushing in the second half of the season, carried just 13 times for 47 yards on a day when the Bengals were depleted with receiving options.
Only one of Hill’s rushing attempts came in the final 25 minutes, and Cincinnati only ran it 21 times as a team, with four being scrambles by Andy Dalton.
But Hill defended offensive coordinator Hue Jackson’s play calling and shouldered the blame for the way things played out in the second half.
“We were three-and-outs the whole second half,” Hill said. “You can say play calling this and play calling that, but when you’re going three and out, you’re not getting any success in the run game on first down. What can you do? I mean you don’t have a selection of plays to choose from. I’ve got to do a better job to help us in the run game.”
The absence of tight end Jermaine Gresham with a back injury not only hurt the Bengals in the passing game, it was a big factor in the struggle to run the ball.
The Bengals tried to compensate by using six or seven linemen at times with tackle Marshall Newhouse and guard Mike Pollak lining up as tight ends, but that wasn’t enough to keep the Colts defense guessing.
“When you don’t have a lot of tight ends up and you’re having to do it with linemen, now you make it even more obvious and now they can roll to it even more because they’re not worried about Newhouse and Pollak catching passes,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “You’re in a situation where you’ve got to knock them off the football and kind of play high school football a little bit and have a huge run and we just didn’t get one.”
The longest run of the day was a 23-yard reverse by Rex Burkhead on the first offensive snap of the game. The longest run of the second half was a 16-yard scramble by Dalton. Hill had four carries for 10 yards in the second half.