If there's one thing the Cincinnati Bengals have had, it's a decent roster of running backs -- names like Corey Dillon (three Pro Bowls and 45 TDs w/ Cincinnati), Ickey Woods (15 TDs in 1988), Pete Johnson (one Pro Bowl and 76 rushing TDs), James Brooks (four Pro Bowls w/ Cincinnati), Larry Kinnebrew (44 rushing TDs) and Paul Robinson (two Pro Bowls). Some of you have seen every one of them, but most of you should know the names of each one. Through 39 completed seasons, the Bengals have ranked in the top-ten rushing 15 times -- including the league best in 1988 and 1989.
Fast-forward: In 2003, the Bengals were in the midst of a culture overhaul replacing hopelessness with hope. Some people, notably Dillon and Takeo Spikes, weren't interested in change. They only wanted a one-way ticket... anywhere. At the time, who could blame them? We were awful and they wanted to win before they hung it up. Dillon found a home, a Super Bowl ring and career numbers with New England. Takeo Spikes played four seasons with Buffalo going 27-37 finding himself on Monday Night for the first in 2007 (with the Eagles) -- the Bengals played on MNF four times since Spikes left.
It appeared that the upswing of the franchise's culture change would remember our rushing roots with balanced production.
Dillon saw his production fall in 2003 after suffering nagging injuries with the rising of another. With only 215 carries, Rudi Johnson recorded games of 182 (Houston, on 43 attempts), 165 (Kansas City) and 174 (San Francisco) yards rushing. Johnson went on to record 12 touchdowns in each of the next three seasons.
The young man that complicated Dillon's playing time in 2003, now holds the franchise record for most rushing yards (1,458 in 2005) and most rush attempts in a single-season (361 in 2004). He was quickly climbing the all-time franchise marks. At one point, Rudi was on pace to hold most of the franchise rushing records. Now, he's likely to fall short -- unless 2006 and 2007 are aberrations -- seeing the significant portion of his career production behind him.
Did you know: In 1988, the Bengals rushed for 2,612 rushing yards in 16 games (163.3 per game). That pales in comparison to 1969 when the team rushed for 2,651 yards in 14 games (189.4 per game).
So, 2007. Many question the play-calling of Bob Bratkowski. Since 2001, when Bratkowski became the offensive coordinator, the Bengals best ranking rush offense was 11th in 2005. They've been outside the top-15 three times and ranked 26th in 2006 -- they've hovered around the bottom-10 nearly all of 2007. Bratkowski has also been the offensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks and the offensive coordinator for the Miami Hurricanes championship seasons in 1989 and 1991. He's sustained success with conference (NCAA) and division titles (Bengals, 2005). Ironically, in four seasons as Seattle's offensive coordinator, three seasons finished at 8-8. It's an unconnected thought, but interesting to me.
I believe there is a point made with the play-calling. At the same time, you have to execute. The offensive line, between 2004 and 2005 (when Rudi was the most successful) was stable. Rudi Johnson finished with 4.0 yards per carry in 2004 and 4.3 in 2005 converting a total 152 first downs and recording 12 20-yard runs or more. Stability means more with the offensive line than any other unit in any other sport. Look at the offensive line breakdown.
Since then, we've had several different starters in 26 games. Of which, no one has started every game.
* All in 2006. Now with Cleveland.
That's one of several factors, I believe, contributing to Rudi Johnson's depreciation. Could it be the biggest? Honestly, I could accept that. Something else to consider. The fact that two running backs are out, with only Kenny Watson (before acquiring DeDe Dorsey) on the roster, could be forcing Rudi to play rather than recover. In other words, he could still be hurt but playing because we lack the depth at running back.
I think his body overhaul, losing weight and adding muscle backfired on him. He doesn't fire through holes -- when they're there -- like he used to. He hesitates. One has to wonder that if the team changed the rushing point of attack because of Rudi's added speed on the edges -- which hasn't produced anything. The offensive line in the past two seasons has been average when they were one of the league's best in the two seasons before that.
With Kenny Watson, Kenny Irons and Chris Perry all on the horizon for 2008, is Rudi Johnson's career in Cincinnati over?