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Bengals Struggling Rush Defense Squaring Off Against One Of The League's Best Running Backs

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The Cincinnati Bengals rush defense is ranked 31st and Maurice Jones Drew, most productive running back dating back to 2009, is second in the league running the football this year.

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Al Messerschmidt - Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals rushing defense is so bad right now, that the last time they've allowed an average 155.0 yards rushing per game or more, it was 1998 when that squad was abused for 163.25 yards rushing. That year the Bengals went 3-13 with marquee defensive players like Takeo Spikes, Brian Simmons, Artrell Hawkins, Sam Shade, Reinard Wilson and Clyde Simmons. Yet one caveat for that squad was that opposing offenses pounded the football late in the game after establishing comfortable leads. Of the 13 losses that year, 10 were by more than a touchdown. Meaning that in the fourth quarter, if not the entire second half, teams were killing the clock using the ground game.

This year's team doesn't have that excuse.

Though a different crew, this year's unit is equally problematic against the run. Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III have all scored touchdowns and combined for a 5.9 yard-per-rush average. Opposing offenses have converted first downs on 33.8 percent of their runs and a shockingly high 5.8 yard/rush average -- both a league worst. Hell. If teams wanted, they could run the football every play, sustaining drives and picking up first downs and there's nothing Cincinnati's defense could do about it. At least what they've shown so far.

This problem dates back to the second half of last season (arguably after Pat Sims' season-ending injury). The rushing defense has allowed 100 yards rushing or more in 10 of their previous 12 games (sporting a 5-7 record), including last year's wild card loss. During that span they've allowed 15 rushing touchdowns, including multiple scores in four of the last five games and a 4.9 yard/rush average.

But why are they so bad? There's any number of reasons, including missed tackles -- Rey Maualuga is second in the league with seven. Save for Michael Johnson, defensive linemen are struggling across the board against the run, notably consuming offensive linemen from reaching the second level. Granted it didn't help that last week's triple option from the Washington Redskins was a wrecking ball against an already fragile rushing defense and generally speaking, completely unfair in a league that long ago shied away from using the option.

Now the Bengals are tasked with one of the league's best running backs in last year's rushing champion Maurice Jones-Drew, currently second in the NFL with 314 yards rushing; only nine yards shy from the league-leading Jamaal Charles (who rushed for 233 yards in week three). And no one has rushed for more yards than Jones-Drew (4,635) since 2009 posing a serious problem between Jacksonville's productive running game and Cincinnati's depressing rush defense.

Despite Cincinnati's infirmed secondary opening optimism for Jacksonville's 31st-ranked passing offense, the Cincinnati Bengals rushing defense and Jaguars running game could very well be the battle that determines the victor during Sunday's war.