The Bucs' defense did an excellent job of wrapping up Rams RB Marshall Faulk, but will face a different type of challenge Sunday against Cincy's Corey Dillon
A month ago, on October 28, Cincinnati running back Corey Dillon ignited for 184 rushing yards, 6.8 yards per carry and two touchdowns in a 31-27 Bengals win at Detroit.
Since that game, Dillon has averaged just 53 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry in three Cincinnati games, a trio of losses by an average of 16 points per contest. Perhaps Dillon, who is seventh in the league with 204 carries, is losing a little steam after carrying the Bengals offense for much of the first half.
Yeah, kind of like a round of Russian Roulette has 'lost steam' after three empty clicks.
If Corey Dillon has proven one thing in his rather impressive five-year career in Cincinnati, it is that he is capable of going off in a big way on any given weekend. This is the runner that owns the all-time NFL record for rushing yards in a game, with 278 last year against Denver, and the all-time rookie record for rushing yards in a game (246 against Tennessee in 1997).
By the way, lest you think Dillon put up those enormous totals against leaky defenses, Denver ranked seventh in the league against the run last year, even with that huge day by Dillon, and the Titans finished fourth against the run in '97. Clearly, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, another stout defensive team and the Bengals' next opponent, can not expect to stop Dillon by reputation.
"You just have those kind of days, and he's very capable of that," said Bucs Head Coach Tony Dungy. "He can make long runs, he can make big plays. If they get ahead of you, he can wear you down because of his size. He can put that type of number up on anybody, and I think that's our motivation to go in there and make sure it doesn't happen against us."
S John Lynch helped the Bucs' defense hold the league's reigning MVP, running back Marshall Faulk, to 55 rushing yards on Monday night, but the 6-1, 225-pound Dillon presents a brand new and differently-shaped challenge
"When you turn on the tape you see a guy like Corey Dillon - there are so many great runners in this league and this guy has the number one rushing day in history of the NFL and the number seven day in NFL history," said Lynch. "That's a formidable back."
Dillon has not gone four straight games without hitting the 100-yard rushing mark since mid-1999. Forget 100-yard games; he's gone over 120 rushing yards 13 times in 72 career games. Dillon hasn't broken off one of his signature marathon running days in a month, but the Bengals have still given him the ball at least 17 times in each of the last three games, clearly waiting for another detonation. In fact, the workhorse back has carried the ball at least 15 times in 23 consecutive games.
"I think they'll try to pound us with Corey Dillon," said Dungy, who has seen his team scarred this season by big backs Jerome Bettis of Pittsburgh, Ahman Green of Green Bay and Eddie George of Tennessee (to a lesser extent). "They've got some big-play wide receivers, whereas Pittsburgh didn't throw the ball quite as much as these guys. But I think we'll see a lot of Corey Dillon and running it inside."
Cincinnati ranks 21st in the league in rushing offense, 23rd in passing, but it is clearly Dillon's work that has been key to their success. In the Bengals' four wins this season, their feature back has averaged 121.5 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns. In the team's six losses, Dillon has put up 49.8 rushing yards per game and scored just once.
"Most teams that have beaten them have done a very good job of stopping him," said linebacker Derrick Brooks. "We feel if he gets going, he's very tough to beat. Obviously, our work is cut out for us in the running game. We have to go up there, take care of our own guys and tackle."
Defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who had a monster game against Faulk and the Rams' rushing attack on Monday, calls the men who clear a path for Dillon a 'special o-line.' Keyed by an outstanding pair of tackles in Willie Anderson and former Dolphin Richmond Webb, the Bengals' front wall has permitted only 18 sacks while opening holes for Dillon. With a passing game that has struggled at times, Cincinnati expects to see extra men near the line of scrimmage in run support and is adept at finding a blocker for almost every man.
"We just have to do what we do," said Sapp, referring to the Bucs' one-gap defense that requires every player to know where he is supposed to be at all times. "Everybody has to get into the gap and be fundamentally sound in what we're doing, and allow him to chose who makes the tackle.
"We have to go out and play a whole different ball club with a whole different scheme. They're a lot more physical than the Rams. They're going to want to run the ball, and we have to be fundamentally sound in what we're doing. It's going to be a challenge for us, but I think we're up for it."
That's an opinion shared by Cincinnati Head Coach Dick LeBeau, who was able to witness the Bucs' defense near its best on Monday Night Football this week and see Sapp, in particular, wreaking havoc.
"They've got a great front seven," said LeBeau. "They're line is not only strong, it's agile. They've got one of the best tackles that's played in the National Football League, and that's always a factor when you have the best of anything. Their linebackers play very well and their secondary is very solid and supports aggressively. They play very good defense and they're well-coached."
Dungy's current coaching challenge is to keep his team from getting complacent against an offense, driven by Dillon, that is capable of having a big day, regardless of recent struggles.
"The thing we know about them is they've been a little bit up-and-down but they're capable of having those big games," said Dungy. "We watched some tape of their earlier games. They lost to Cleveland this last week, but they rolled over Cleveland at home, put 24 points on the board. We saw them put 31 on Detroit, so we know what they're capable of. They've played some pretty good defenses the last few weeks. Hopefully, that trend will continue.