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Ted Karras sounds off on Bengals rushing offense

Cincinnati needs to change its identity if it hopes to make another playoff run.

NFL: Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals
Ted Karras
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Four Super Bowl appearances. Two Super Bowl championships. Cincinnati Bengals center Ted Karras knows what it takes to be successful in the NFL.

And he knows you are not going to reach that pinnacle of success without a viable running game. That is something the Bengals do not have.

“I think that’s kind of been our problem this year,” Karras said in an interview with Jay Morrison of The Athletic after Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Obviously, we’ve very much underachieved in the run game. I think when you have a new quarterback come in, you want to be able to lean on the run. We were not able to today. [We] still had a chance to win, but ultimately failed.”

Whether they failed because of an inability to run the ball, or because of a lack of faith in the running game is another question altogether. The Bengals’ coaching staff called all of eight running plays Sunday, and only three after halftime. Running back Joe Mixon finished with 16 yards rushing.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, turned to the run 28 times and was rewarded with 148 yards rushing, an average of nearly 5.3 yards per carry. Najee Harris led the way with 99 yards on 15 carries.

For Bengals’ head coach Zac Taylor, the problem was not the running game but a lack of opportunities.

“We’ve got to do a better job managing the drives as we go and put ourselves in a little bit more advantageous situations,” Taylor said after the game. “If you can put yourself in a situation where you call more runs and you’re not at second and 10, second and long, third and longer, you get more runs off, and eventually some of those runs start to get you bigger gains. We didn’t get an opportunity get enough runs off.”

Cincinnati only ran a total of 41 plays Sunday, to 68 for the Steelers. Pittsburgh ran the ball over 41 percent of the time to less than 20 percent for the Bengals.

That has to change in Week 13 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday Night Football.

“You’re never who you are in the NFL,” Karras argued. “You’re judged on 17 days. It’s who comes ready to perform on Sunday, or Monday night, in this case.”

Pittsburgh has been mostly a running team so far this season and has a 7-4 record to show for it. Cincinnati, meanwhile, has relied primarily on the pass, and its 5-6 record has it in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in three years. Maybe it’s time for a change.

“You see it all around the league,” Karras pointed out. “[You] saw it on Thanksgiving, you see it every week, week in and week out. This is a league of highly-trained professionals and amazing athletes. So you’ve got to be at your best when it counts the most, and when it counts the most for us is game day.”

For whatever reason, the Bengals have not been at their best lately. And that has little to do with the season-ending injury to Joe Burrow. With a healthy Burrow, Cincinnati dropped a 30-27 decision to the Houston Texans in which it called only 11 running plays.

The Bengals began the season with losses in three of their first four games, and averaged less than 16 running plays in each of those losses. Cincinnati has called more than 20 running plays in only three games this year, and each of those games ended with a victory.

Should we expect a little more emphasis on the run Monday night against Jacksonville?

“We’re gonna get to work and I know they’ll have a good plan for us,” Karras said. “But it comes down to individual execution, each guy winning their matchup.”