FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots are expected to run all over the Cincinnati Bengals tomorrow at Gillette Stadium. At least that is what the statistics indicate.
"We want to run the ball every week," Patriots tight end Christian Fauria said yesterday. "It doesn't matter who we are playing. If we can run the ball it opens up other things for us, and every defense we play against is thinking the same thing. We have done well but we can always get better. We have a lot of weapons. If that's not working we can rely on [Tom] Brady to open it up with the passing game."
Bengals opponents are averaging 141.9 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per run. Only New Orleans (152 yards per game) has been worse against the run this year. Nine running backs have rushed for 95 or more yards against the Bengals this season.
Teams surrendering excessive rushing yardage seldom produce winning records. Both the Saints and Arizona, ranked 30th in rushing defense, have 4-8 records. But Cincinnati has been able to produce wins -- four victories in its last five games -- despite this weakness. Among the Bengals' strengths is causing fumbles -- opponents have fumbled 31 times, losing 13. Only Indianapolis (9-3) has recovered more opponent fumbles (16 of 31) than Cincinnati.
The Patriots' running game depends on Corey Dillon, as the Bengals' did before he was traded after last season. Dillon completed his seventh 100-yard game of the season, and ninth with 94 or more yards, in a 42-15 win at Cleveland last Sunday. Dillon is averaging 4.8 yards per carry on 254 attempts. On the Patriots' other 137 rushing plays, they have totaled 365 yards, an average of 2.7 yards. The Patriots are ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (132.2) and tied for 17th in yards per attempt (4.1).
"It seems every time we give it to [Dillon] there are a lot of positives happening," Brady said. "There is a good reason why we are giving it to him. I think the offensive line has done a great job of getting on their blockers and giving Corey a chance to hit it up there and gain some yards, and he has done a great job of doing that."
Dillon struggled in the Patriots' 31-3 loss to the Bengals during the exhibition season, gaining 31 yards. In the regular season, though, Dillon's lowest total has been 79 yards vs. Buffalo Oct. 3.
Dillon refused comment yesterday, but is expected to have extra motivation for this game.
"I would expect him to approach it, really, just like any other game," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "He's got a job to do. He's got assignments to carry out. I'm sure he'll have a little bit more familiarity with some of the guys on the other side of the ball than maybe other teams that he has played. You can't worry about all of that when the game starts. You have a linebacker to block, you block him. You have a hole to run through, you read your key and you run through it.
"Maybe you think a little bit about it before the game. I've been involved in those games where you are coaching against a team you used to be at. When the game starts you're thinking about the situation. You're thinking about your job, what you have to do, and you're trying to do it. When the game is over, maybe you reflect back on something, but I didn't really ever feel that way during the game. If I did, it was very seldom. You're just too caught up in what you have to do and what your responsibilities are."