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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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Hard Knocks L.A. Episode 1 Recap: Anthony Lynn tested positive, Justin Herbert shines

Hard Knocks L.A. Episode 1 Recap: Anthony Lynn tested positive, Justin Herbert shines

Football is back on TV as the new season of HBO's Hard Knocks premiered Tuesday evening. It’s the first time in the documentary's 15 seasons that the show will follow two teams, the Los Angles Chargers and Los Angles Rams. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from episode one. 

Anthony Lynn tested positive

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn revealed in the opening scene that he had tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year. Lynn is the third known NFL head coach to have contracted the virus, joining New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Peyton and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

Justin Herbert shines

The Chargers first-round draft pick was the star player of episode one showing off his arm skills. He nailed almost every one of his targets during accuracy drills. The episode didn’t show too much of any player, but the former University of Oregon signal-caller stole the show in small amount of camera time he had

Rams head coach Sean McVay

Sean McVay’s introduction to the show had fans jealous of the panoramic views from his home in Los Angeles. McVay’s jokes were also a highlight of the episode. 

COVID-19 precautions and safety

Training camp is off-limits to fans in order to decrease potential exposure of the virus for players and staff. With that in mind, Hard Knocks is fans and media members first look at what an NFL training camp in 2020 looks like. From the frequent testing to the outdoor facilities that both the Rams and Chargers have invested in, it's a different type of training camp. It’s also a different type of Hard Knocks, but because of our desire for anything football-related, it has the potential to be one of the best seasons yet.
 
It will be tough to top the excitement of episode one but with two teams in action, there's no shortage of storylines. Episode two airs on HBO next Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET. 

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Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

Wizards' NBA Bubble Awards: Thomas Bryant was the clear MVP

The Wizards closed out their 2019-20 regular season on Thursday with a much-needed win, as they finished the year 25-47 and their time in the NBA's restart bubble 1-7. 

Those final eight games, though, were about much more than wins and losses. The team was evaluating their young players as they look ahead to next season when the expectations will be raised significantly.

Just looking at those eight games, here are some awards and superlatives for what we saw...

Most valuable: Thomas Bryant

This is a very easy call, it was a unanimous vote. Though Bryant wasn't the only young player who looked good in Orlando, he was by far their best player overall.

Bryant leaves the bubble with eight-game averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. Those are big-time numbers, even if they were compiled on a team that went 1-7. Bryant took on a larger role in the offense and increased his volume while remaining efficient. He shot 53.2 percent overall and 40.5 percent from three.

Bryant took a big step forward. He was healthy after dealing with a foot problem earlier this season, and delivered. The Wizards have a legitimate starting center they can pencil in for next season, hopefully with the green light to take more threes.

RELATED: WIZARDS FINALLY WIN IN BUBBLE

Most improved: Jerome Robinson

This was one of the more unexpected, yet pleasantly surprising developments for the Wizards in the bubble. Robinson, who had spent his entire career to this point backing up really good players, finally got a chance to spread his wings. And, boy, did he.

Robinson found a newfound level of consistency, averaging 14.8 points while shooting a solid 36.7 percent from three. He reached double figures in scoring in seven of the eight games after only doing that four times in his previous 88 NBA appearances. 

Given the small sample size, and the stakes, it probably isn't enough to truly guarantee him a role going into next season. But he has absolutely earned a chance to compete for the back-up role behind Bradley Beal.

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Most intriguing: Troy Brown Jr.

Brown had a tremendous start in the bubble, but slowed down late as he was thrown into the fire as the starting point guard. Though he struggled in that role, it was an invaluable experience that he can take a lot of lessons from.

Overall, though, Brown made clear improvements in his game. He thrived with a greater share of the play-making duties and was able to showcase his skills as a passer and ball-handler.

It was enough to warrant some focus by the Wizards' coaching staff next season. Though they will have John Wall and Beal coming back, they have to find a way to incorporate Brown's strengths. That may come in a bench role as the primary ball-handler in the second unit.

Needs most improvement: Admiral Schofield

Not all of the Wizards' young players displayed growth in the bubble games and included in that group is Schofield, the team's 2019 second round pick. Unfortunately for him, it was all juxtaposed with the breakout performance of Bol Bol, whom the Wizards passed on to select Schofield out of the University of Tennessee.

Schofield averaged only 2.7 points in 12.6 minutes while shooting 29.4 percent from the field. He looked uncertain on the floor and continues to sort of float between roles with no defined path towards stability in the rotation.

Keep in mind, though, Schofield is just starting out his NBA career. He was a second round pick and those guys take time. He has the physical tools, the work ethic and the smarts to make it in this league. But there is no question this will be an important offseason for the guy.

Best moment: Moe Wagner vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The most memorable image from the Wizards' time in Orlando was definitely the ejection of the league's reigning MVP in their penultimate game. Antetokounmpo has since been suspended by the league for it.

He lost his cool and headbutted Wagner, who now has another notch on his belt in his neverending quest to get under the skin of his opponents. He is a pest and an effective one at that.

Stay connected to the Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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