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Bengals' Dillon can run a team ragged

If he gets loose Sunday, Bucs could get hurt.

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001

He is chiseled and sturdy, a tad over 6 feet 1 and a solid 225 pounds. By NFL standards, he is fairly typical in size, huskier than some and smaller than others.

Yet you expect Bengals running back Corey Dillon to be bigger. You expect legs as round as California redwoods, shoulders as wide as aircraft carriers. After all, an entire NFL team can be quite a load when strapped to your back.

As much as one player can be a whole team, Dillon is the Bengals (4-6), the one constant and identifiable offensive beacon amid so much darkness. Cincinnati's fortunes rise and fall with what it gets out of Dillon.

Three of the Bengals' four victories have come on days Dillon rushed for more than 100 yards. In Cincinnati's other win, 21-10 over Baltimore, he had 57 yards.

That works out to an average of 121 yards in victory, and almost 50 yards in defeat.

In his five seasons with the Bengals, they are 9-0 when he goes over 100 and 16-5 when he carries at least 22 times.

"I know what I'm going to get from Corey Dillon (every week)," said coach Dick LeBeau, whose Bengals host the Bucs Sunday. "I'm going to get a hard-running back that is going to give you everything that he's got on every down. He doesn't have to have the ball under his arm to be a factor. He's going to hold up in pass protection, and if we have to throw it to him, he'll catch it and give us what he can get there."

Dillon, 27, is one of a handful of players around the league whose sparkling performances often are lost amid their team's struggles. A second-round draft pick out of Washington, he has quietly posted 1,000-yard seasons every year he has been in the league, and is on pace to top 1,000 again. He has 784 with six games remaining.

He, not high-profile stars Marshall Faulk or Edgerrin James or Emmitt Smith, holds the league record for rushing yards in a game (278).

In fact, Dillon has reeled off two of the biggest rushing days in league history, 278 against Denver last season and 246 against Tennessee in 1997, the seventh-highest single-game total. Only O.J. Simpson and Jim Brown have more than one rushing performance among the all-time top 10.

That's usually the way it goes for Dillon; when he cuts loose, he does it in a big way. He has had three 200-yard rushing games and has broken runs of 50 or more yards nine times in his career.

This season has been no different. He has three 100-yard games, but two were huge: 140 against Cleveland and 184 against Detroit. A chunk of that 184 came on a 96-yard touchdown.

Against a Bucs defense that has given up some huge rushing days this season -- 169 by Green Bay's Ahman Green and 163 by Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis -- the Bengals are hoping Dillon can bust loose again.

"We feel if he gets going, he's very tough to beat," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "Obviously, our work is cut out for us. We have to go up there, take care of your guys and tackle."

Dillon is cautious.

"They're good. They're fast. We better be executing or it's going to be a long damn Sunday," he said of the Bucs defense on "We're going to have to have a little smoke and fire. They get after it. We can't be lackadaisical."

Dillon is due for a big game. He has been bottled up the past three, which has dropped him among the league's top rushers. A month ago he was third; now he's ninth.

He has been held to 58, 38 and 63 yards in his past three outings, partly because the Bengals fell behind and were forced to abandon the run. Dillon hasn't hit his magical 22 carries in a game since getting 27 in that 184-yard game against the Lions.

Not coincidentally, Dillon hasn't talked much to the media since then. He has been particularly frustrated by the Bengals' recent running problems, which he said have to be ironed out for them to have a chance at beating the Bucs.

After all, as Dillon goes, so go the Bengals.

"I'm just trying to get better. Until we make up our minds what we're going to be and how we're going to get it done, we're going to have problems," he said. "Right now, we need to get it right. If not, it's going to be a long season."

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