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Bengals trying to get up and running for playoffs

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Bengals trying to get up and running for playoffs

CINCINNATI (AP) BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn't suit up for the Cincinnati Bengals' practice on Tuesday. He wore black sweatpants and a gray hooded sweatshirt, running by himself at one end of the University of Cincinnati's covered football field while everyone else ran plays.

It's another challenge for an offense that's hit the wall.

Green-Ellis had a sore hamstring during pregame warm-ups and sat out a 23-17 win over Baltimore on Sunday, leaving Cincinnati with questions about its top runner heading into a playoff game Saturday at Houston.

Coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't discuss the status of Green-Ellis, who spent most of the open locker room period away from the media in the trainer's room.

``We're going to prepare to run the ball like we do every week and hopefully BenJarvus is healthy,'' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said after practice. ``He's got a little twinge right now, but it looks like he's going to be fine. It will be important to us.

``We have other backs also that can run the ball. We're not going to change our plan at all. It never varies. We have a good run plan going in, but Houston's a good run defense as we all know. It's going to be important to try to force the issue.''

Lately, other defenses have forced the issue and forced the Bengals to find other ways to score.

The Bengals managed only 14 yards on 16 carries during a 13-10 win in Pittsburgh, one of the most feeble showings in franchise history. With Green-Ellis watching from the sideline on Sunday, Cincinnati ran for only 47 yards during the win over a Baltimore team resting most of its stars for the playoffs.

Asked about the state of the running game on Tuesday, left tackle Andrew Whitworth paused a few seconds before answering.

``Well, I think we've made strides throughout the year to make it better, and we've had ups and downs with it,'' Whitworth said. ``But that's the nature of the NFL. I think every week every team has ups and downs with it.

``I think the key in the playoffs, honestly, is to score points. I don't care if it's the running game, the passing game or running the ball backward. That will be the ultimate goal: Be able to run the ball efficiently and throw and catch the ball and be able to put up enough points to win.''

Cincinnati doesn't want to repeat what happened in its playoff game at Houston last year. The Bengals had to rely heavily on then-rookie quarterback Andy Dalton during a 31-10 loss. Dalton threw three interceptions, including J.J. Watt's 29-yard return for a touchdown just before halftime.

One problem was that Cincinnati had trouble running the ball. Cedric Benson managed only 14 yards on seven carries, and Dalton finished as the second-leading rusher with 17 yards on three scrambles. He wound up throwing 42 times.

``It's going to be a great test for us, and we've just got to do a good job of mixing what we do and trying not to make Andy throw the ball 35, 40 times with seven-step drops, because it will be not fun,'' Gruden said.

The Bengals couldn't run the ball consistently at the start of the season with three new players in the middle of the line. Once they settled in and Green-Ellis got going, the Bengals started winning. They ran for more than 100 yards in five consecutive games, helping Cincinnati win seven of its last eight overall.

In the last two games, the defense scored the important touchdowns - Leon Hall and Carlos Dunlap returned interceptions for scores. The offense managed only one touchdown in those two games.

Cincinnati hasn't had a rushing touchdown since Dalton scrambled for one in the third quarter of a win in Philadelphia on Dec. 13.

``We've won 10 games, so we're happy about that,'' Gruden said. ``We're happy we're in the position we're in. But I don't think anybody has played to the standard that we expect - offensive line, receivers, quarterbacks, coordinators. We expect to be great, and we haven't reached that yet.''

NOTES: The Bengals rented the University of Cincinnati's covered practice field for the second time in two weeks with temperatures below freezing. ... All that Lewis would say about Green-Ellis is ``He'll be fine at some point.'' Green-Ellis ran for 1,094 yards during the season on 278 carries. Cedric Peerman was second with 258 yards on 36 carries.

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Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.

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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.