Kansas City, Mo. As an offense, the Kansas City Chiefs are only half the team they used to be.
Now-departed Pro Bowl blockers Willie Roaf, Will Shields and Tony Richardson would plow like Clydesdales through would-be tacklers, clearing the way first for Priest Holmes and then for Larry Johnson. Records tumbled from 2000 through 2006 as the Chiefs averaged a robust 130.3 yards rushing per game.
But the anemic ground game that'll confront Cincinnati's struggling defense Sunday comes in averaging a feeble and league-worst 65.6 yards per game. In one of the most embarrassing afternoons in franchise history, the Chiefs (2-3) rushed for only 10 yards last week in a loss to Jacksonville.
"We have to play better, period," said coach Herm Edwards, who promised some personnel changes this week while refusing to be specific. "It's not just one thing. It's a lot of things."
Johnson, the two-time Pro Bowler who piled up more than 3,400 yards the past two seasons, is down to No. 22 on the NFL rushing charts. He's averaging a paltry 3.3 yards per carry.
The biggest problem has been an aging offensive line that appears to get physically dominated week after week. In all five games, the Chiefs have fallen behind by at least 10 points.
One change Edwards might have in mind is to start rookie wide receiver Bobby Sippio. Hoping to get more blocking for Johnson, Edwards did announce he would give converted linebacker Boomer Grigsby his first action at fullback.
Given a few changes and the quality of their opponent, the Chiefs might look at this as the ideal week to get their ground game in gear. The Bengals are giving up 403 yards per game, including 152 yards rushing.
"If they've watched any of our films, they'll definitely try to run the ball a lot," said Cincinnati defensive tackle John Thornton. "They've struggled to run the ball, we've struggled to stop the run. It will be a good test for us."
Only a 13-yard TD pass by backup Brodie Croyle on the final play last week against Jacksonville enabled Kansas City to avoid its first home shutout since 1994. There had been speculation Croyle would start this week in place of injured veteran Damon Huard. But Huard looked good in practice on Wednesday and will keep his job, Edwards said.
While the Chiefs have had little time to look back on the humiliation of their last game, the Bengals have had an extra week to ponder their 34-13 loss to New England on Oct. 1, a game which had players and coaches fuming at one another. The third-most lopsided defeat in coach Marvin Lewis' five seasons also resulted in several injuries.
Willie Anderson, the Bengals' Pro Bowl right tackle, will be out with a chronic foot injury, ending his string of 116 consecutive starts. Stacy Andrews, who started the first three games at left guard, will move to right tackle. Linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Rashad Jeanty also are expected to miss the game, which could further weaken a defense that's already been struggling.
The Bengals' 1-3 record has had Lewis accusing some of his players of being selfish. But with an extra week, tempers have cooled and bodies have healed, Lewis said.
"I really think it came at a good time for us. We were probably at a low, as low as we've been probably for years. It was an opportunity for us to self-analyze, look at ourselves and make sure we're doing things correctly and become fundamentally sound again."
The Bengals will be without starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who was suspended this week by the league for one game. First-round pick Leon Hall will start at cornerback along with Deltha O'Neal.
"Hopefully, the Kansas City Chiefs feel like we're in disarray," said Lewis. "We'll play uphill, we'll be fine. "We're going to play with a chip on our shoulder, and we'll get after it and be fine."
One thing the Chiefs have done fairly well this year is play defense, although they've looked vulnerable with two aging cornerbacks in Patrick Surtain, 31, and Ty Law, 33.
Cincinnati wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh will be the most dangerous pair Kansas City has faced this year.
"I've played against some good ones for a long time, and you can put them right up there with the best of them," Law said. "You don't get much better than that."