OWINGS MILLS — Cedric Benson is more than a downhill, tackle-breaking runner who busts through linebackers that fail to deliver a hit and properly wrap him up.
He’s also a streak stopper.
Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals’ low-slung running back was a scourge against the Baltimore Ravens’ defense.
It was Benson who halted the Ravens’ league-high streak of holding opposing runners below the century mark when he became the first back to rush for 100 yards against Baltimore in 40 games.
Benson bolted through a feeble arm tackle attempt from former Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes while rumbling for a 28-yard touchdown run during the Bengals’ 17-14 victory Oct. 11 at M&T Bank Stadium last season. He wound up finishing with 120 yards on 27 carries.
Then, Benson duplicated the rare feat against the Ravens’ stingy run defense by rushing for 117 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries during the Bengals’ 17-7 win over Baltimore on Nov. 9 in Cincinnati.
“He’s gashed us pretty good twice, you bet,” nose guard Kelly Gregg said. “You’ve got to respect a guy like that. He’s a good one, so we’ve got to be ready for him.”
Benson became the first running back to rush for 100 yards twice in one season against Baltimore since retired Pittsburgh Steelers runner Jerome Bettis gained 116 and 105 yards against the Ravens during their inaugural season in 1996.
Now, the Ravens are drawing up a game plan with the intent of stopping Benson as they prepare for Sunday’s road game.
“The bottom line is defensively we’ve just got to make sure to stay in our gaps to keep him contained,” All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “He’s a very, very patient runner, stutters a lot to read his keys, to read his holes and then bounces it or cuts inside. I just think in that zone scheme they’ve got it’s really kind of created for him and the way they run that. Defensively, we’ve just got to attack our gaps and stay on him.”
Only one other runner rushed for 100 yards against Baltimore last season: Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson, who piled up 143 yards on 22 carries.
The Ravens finished fifth in the NFL against the run last season.
And Benson rushed for a career-high 1,259 yards despite missing three starts due to a hip injury.
The Bengals keep defenses honest because of their ability to throw downfield with Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.
Benson is the focal point of their offense, using the run to set up the pass.
“We better stop him,” inside linebacker Tavares Gooden said. “You’ve got to take pride in stopping him. That’s what we’re trying to do. We approach him like any other back in the NFL. We’ve got to get him on the ground.”
At 5-foot-11, 227 pounds, Benson is a stocky, physical back who excels in the Bengals’ zone-blocking scheme by picking out holes and decisively getting upfield in a north-south approach.
The Bengals have an imposing offensive line, too.
“Obviously, that’s something we’ve got to address,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “He’s run the ball better than you’re supposed to run it on our defense, and that’s a big thing for us. We’ve got to stop that run.
“Their offensive line is big guys that get on you. Now, it’s getting off the block. When you try to get off a block and make a tackle when he’s hitting you, he sometimes falls forward for a couple more and we can’t allow that to happen.”
A former first-round draft pick from the University of Texas, Benson, 27, flopped with the Chicago Bears after being drafted in the first round five years ago.
He’s a much different, more formidable player in his third season in Cincinnati.
“As soon as he sees daylight, he’s hitting it,” said defensive end Cory Redding, a former Benson teammate at Texas. “He’s the same way now as he was in college at Texas. He’s always getting positive yards. You rarely see him falling backwards.