CINCINNATI — The Bengals entered Sunday’s game against the Jets at Paul Brown Stadium with the worst rushing defense in the NFL, by a comfortable margin, at 166.3 yards allowed per game.
Then the Jets finished the first half of their 22-6 loss with 10 rushes and 25 pass attempts — and one of the runs was a scramble by quarterback Sam Darnold.
To be fair, the first-half stats were skewed by a pass-heavy two-minute drill that led to a field goal. But still, the Jets in total rushed 15 times (not including two scrambles) and threw 48 times.
Le’Veon Bell, their highly paid star back, rushed 10 times for 32 yards. He has not exceeded 70 yards in a game this season.
Asked about the lack of commitment to the run, coach Adam Gase said the intention was to come out running in the second half but that “the first drive we end up going three-and-out, and we run it twice and get 2 yards, you know?”
Bell rushed twice for a total of a yard on the first two plays of the third quarter. After a false-start penalty, he had what would have been a season-high 23-yard run, but it was erased by a holding penalty.
Pressed on his run-pass distribution, Gase said, “That’s what I called.”
Darnold said he felt that “we definitely had something going with the running game” early but that by failing to consistently convert on third downs, the Jets limited Gase’s play-calling options.
Bell, who said Friday that he believes he is playing the best all-around football of his career, was visibly frustrated while addressing reporters at his locker.
Asked if he was surprised that there were not more runs called in the first half, he said: “No, no, I’m not surprised. No.”
But what about attacking the Bengals, given their statistically awful run defense?
“Well, that ain’t what happened today,” Bell said. “We have to deal with what happened and move forward.”
Bell blamed the Jets’ problems on a lack of execution, not a strategy that was lacking.
“We knew exactly what they were going to line up in,” he said. “It was all in the right spots. We didn’t make enough plays. We didn’t execute well enough. That’s on everybody.”
Bell had been energized by the Jets’ three-game winning streak, which was one reason he was comfortable with his own lack of yardage.
It was all part of a larger cause, and he noted Friday that he was pleased with his pass blocking and other nuances of his game.
That all came to a crashing end Sunday.
“It sucks, but we have to find a way to get better,” Bell said. “I want to do what I can so I can get better. And I’m sure everybody else out here will, too.”
Then he was given one more chance to say whether he was surprised by the lack of rushes against the Bengals. He again said he was not surprised.
Why not? “I mean, I don’t know, for real, to be honest,” he said. “I’m just not surprised.”