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Bengals finally get running game moving

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Bengals finally get running game moving

CINCINNATI (AP) The Bengals' offense is developing into a lot more than just Dalton-to-Green, one of the main reasons they're back in the playoff chase.

Finally, they've figured out how to run the ball.

Cincinnati has won three lopsided games in a row largely because the running game has finally gotten in gear. After struggling to find running room for the first half of the season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis has put together 100-yard rushing games the last two weeks.

Green-Ellis ran for a season-high 129 yards during a 34-10 win over the Raiders on Sunday that included the two longest runs of his career - 48 and 39 yards.

The difference is noticeable.

``Confidence plays a big role,'' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. ``Those guys love to run the ball and it takes the pressure off the quarterback. When you have success running the ball, guys come off (the snap) harder.

``You can see our running game fluctuates from week to week, but they are buying into the system and doing a great job.''

The Bengals (6-5) head to San Diego this weekend trying to stay in the mix for a playoff spot. They're tied with Pittsburgh for the AFC's second wild card, although the Steelers won their head-to-head meeting at Paul Brown Stadium this season.

It should be a much tougher test in San Diego. The Bengals ran for a season-high 189 yards overall in a 28-6 win over Kansas City, which has only one victory all season. They followed that with 221 yards rushing against the Raiders, who have lost four straight and given up the most points in the NFL.

The Chargers are tied for fifth-best run defense in the league, along with the Steelers.

``We've got to keep this going,'' quarterback Andy Dalton said. ``The running game has done a great job the last two weeks. We've got to keep the balance.''

The run game has improved as the middle of the line has developed.

The Bengals suffered two significant injuries on the line during preseason. Left guard Travelle Wharton suffered a season-ending knee injury during the first preseason game. Center Kyle Cook hurt his right ankle in the final preseason game and needed surgery. Rookie Kevin Zeitler was given the starting job at right guard in preseason.

Cincinnati signed center Jeff Faine only 10 days before the opener. When he suffered a hamstring injury, rookie Trevor Robinson took over.

With all the changes, the running attack suffered. Green-Ellis was held under 70 yards in five of the first eight games, forcing Dalton to look for Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green more than the Bengals would have liked.

``It is tough,'' Zeitler said. ``We had to rely so much on our pass game early and just defenses could focus on that area more. But now that that's going, it really helps open everything up and the offensive output has gone up, especially during the win streak.''

It's helped that defenses are giving Green a lot of attention lately, using a safety to help with double coverage instead of bunching more players at the line to worry about the run. Green-Ellis was able to break those long runs - backup Cedric Peerman also had a 31-yard gain - because the Raiders' secondary was more worried about the pass.

Green still finished with 111 yards on only three catches.

``Guys have to respect A.J.,'' Peerman said. ``He's a phenomenal playmaker. You throw the ball up to him, he's going to come down with it. That definitely helps us out in the running game. He's just done a phenomenal job.''

Gruden acknowledged it was difficult to keep calling runs plays when they weren't working in the first half of the season.

``Very tough,'' Gruden said. ``The best thing is the last two weeks, I think we've had one negative run. As long as we are churning and getting two, three yards, it's OK. And occasionally pop a big one like we did (against Oakland).

``Keep the defense off-balance and if they want to load up to stop the run - thank you! We'll take some shots.''

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NOTES: The Bengals made a pair of moves with their practice squad on Tuesday, releasing C Scott Wedige and LB Ben Jacobs and signing OT Dan Knapp and TE Bryce Davis. ... The Bengals and Steelers have comparable schedules for the last five weeks of the season, playing the same three opponents and each other. The only difference: Pittsburgh hosts Cleveland (3-8) while the Bengals play at Philadelphia (3-8).

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 27, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Here is my sunrise view from this morning:

Looking at next year’s free agents

This post was originally published on March 18. 

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens. 

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard). 

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility. 

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon. 

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup. 

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight. 

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler