With Pittsburgh maintaining a 7-6 halftime lead, the question was asked, what happened to the Bengals' running game? Despite averaging over 122 yards rushing heading into Sunday's game against the Steelers, Jeremy Hill had only run three times in the first half (all in the first quarter), generating 29 yards rushing. Andy Dalton had a pair of scrambles and Marvin Jones had a two-yard sprint in the second quarter. Save for a handful of timely blocks against Pittsburgh's vicious pass rush, Giovani Bernard was virtually nonexistent.
Yet, quarterback Andy Dalton attempted 16 passes in the first half, was dropped twice behind the line of scrimmage and scrambled five times. When Bernard finally carried the football, he punched through Pittsburgh's defense for a 12-yard gain during the same fourth quarter possession that led to A.J. Green's go-ahead touchdown reception.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson isn't concerned about criticism and frustration:
Hue Jackson heard the frustrations of fans to run the ball more against the Steelers. His offense gave the ball to a running back 16 times compared to 38 pass attempts by Andy Dalton.
Jackson wasn't concerned.
"I measure it by winning," he said. "I don't look at that same things you guys do. I know everybody wanted to run the ball more. I get that. But my job is to win. I'm not trying to make anybody happy. I don't worry about feelings, I don't worry about fantasy stats, I don't worry about who scores touchdowns. I don't worry about any of that."
With respect to Jackson, an absolute fan favorite at Cincy Jungle, the Bengals won despite errors in the passing game, a struggling protection scheme and little concern from Pittsburgh about a nonexistent rushing offense. Everything finally came together midway into the fourth quarter, despite a pair of interceptions and Pittsburgh's failure to take advantage, allowing Andy Dalton to lead Cincinnati downfield for a game-winning touchdown.
"We all know when it's time to run, we'll run," Jackson said. "We have to do what we have to do to win games. You guys understand that. Sometimes it's this, sometimes it's that. But we are a physical group. At some point in time you guys will see that and be happy about it."
Players and coaches shouldn't take a writer's interpretation of "fan frustration" as an actual pulse for this fanbase -- this often gets poorly translated to make fans appear antagonistic in the locker room. We ARE happy. Yes, we are unwieldy with our perfectionist expectations, only because we KNOW the Bengals are one of the league's best at mostly anything they do.
During his final nine games in 2014, Hill generated 100 yards or more five times and 145 yards or more four times. Whether he's dealing with an early-season knee injury or a distracting focus on ball security, Cincinnati's running game isn't the electrifying unit it was in 2014. Hill has surpassed 50 yards in three of seven games, hasn't reached 70 yards once and his yard/rush average has hit four yards or more only twice (Chiefs, Steelers).
Regardless, the Bengals are 7-0 and you can't argue with results.