In the first half of the season, the Cincinnati Bengals were one of the toughest teams in the league to run on. They only allowed one team, the Denver Broncos, to run for over 100 total yards against them through the first eight days. They came close a couple times, like against the Jaguars, but they didn't allow anybody to have big games on the ground against them with an exception of the Broncos.
The Bengals went into the second half of the season needing that same tough run defense to stop the likes of Rashard Mendenhall, Ray Rice, Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch to make their way into the playoffs. Well, the Bengals are in the playoffs but it's not because they were able to stop the run in the second half of the season.
For the first time since Week 2, the Bengals allowed a team to run for over 100 yards in Week 10 when they hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals went into that game riding a five-game winning streak but after allowing the Steelers to run for 105 yards and two touchdowns, they lost their first game since Week 3.
Then in Week 11, the Bengals faced the Baltimore Ravens on the road. Ray Rice had never had a 100-yard game against the Bengals to that point and the Bengals had historically played the Ravens tough. In that game, the Bengals once again allowed a team to run for over 100 yards. Rice had 104 yards against them and the Bengals lost their second game in a row. Seeing a trend?
In Week 12, the Bengals allowed over 100 yards on the ground but they still won. They hosted the Cleveland Browns and gave up 134 yards on the ground. They only gave up 83 yards on the ground in the first week of the season when the two teams played. Despite allowing that many yards on the ground, they were able to outscore the Browns and stop themselves from losing three games in a row.
In Week 13, the Bengals played the Steelers again. You would think they'd be tougher against the run, but they were actually worse. They allowed 136 yards and another two touchdowns on the ground and, in the end, they ended up getting swept by the Steelers. At this point in the season they had lost three of their last four games and had set themselves up in a position in which they likely had to win three of their last four games to make it into the playoffs.
In Week 14 they played the Houston Texans, who, of course, they play on Saturday in the wildcard round of the playoffs. They went into the locker room at halftime with a 16-3 lead but they ended up losing the game by a score of 20-19. That was largely thanks to a second-half collapse but the fact that the Bengals allowed the Texans to run for 144 yards against them can also be blamed. For those of you keeping track, that's five games in a row that the Bengals allowed a team to run for over 100 yards against them.
In Week 15 the Bengals went to St. Louis to face the Rams in a must-win game. Steven Jackson, the Rams' running back, is one of the best in the league but the Bengals were able to contain him. For the first time since Week 9, the Bengals held a team under 100 yards. The Rams only managed 95 total yards on the ground and the Bengals won by a score of 20-13.
In Week 16 the Bengals hosted the Arizona Cardinals in another must-win game to keep their playoff hopes alive. Beanie Wells is one of the bigger running backs in the league and he was having the best season of his career. Luckily, for the second week in a row, the Bengals were able to keep the opposing team from running on them. The Cardinals only managed 59 yards against the Bengals and once again, the Bengals won and their playoff chances were beginning to look good.
Finally, in Week 17, the Ravens came to town. The Bengals weren't able to stop Rice in Week 11 and most felt that they would have to stop him in Week 17 because if they lost to the Ravens, they were likely done. Unfortunately Ray Rice had the second best game of the season against the Bengals in Week 17. Cincinnati gave up 191 yards to Rice and 221 yards overall on the ground. They ended up losing 24-16. Luckily, both the Jets and Broncos (and the Raiders as well) lost and the Bengals got into the playoffs.
On Saturday the Bengals face the Texans in the playoffs. They had given up 100 yards on the ground in six of their last eight games and as a result they had lost five of those games, including one to the Texans. If the Bengals are not able to contain the Texans' running game consisting of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, their chances of heading to New England to play the Patriots in the divisional round drop dramatically.
Hopefully the Bengals are up to the challenge.