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Showdown in NFL's big-back division


It's showdown time in the AFC Central Division again. No, not a showdown of teams, but a showdown of star running backs, which happens every time two AFC Central teams (excluding the Browns, of course) meet.

This is the big-back division. No division in football has a collection of runners as formidable as the AFC Central's: Eddie George, Jerome Bettis, rookie Jamal Lewis, Corey Dillon and Fred Taylor.

Sunday, in Cincinnati, Dillon and Taylor square off. Ah, yes, a battle of running backs who are 83 yards apart, on a turf better suited for cattle, in December, maybe even with the sideline remnants of a recent snowstorm.

"If you ask me, do I think I'm better than those guys? I'll tell you, yeah, I am. I can do anything in any system," Taylor said of his standing among the AFC Central's star runners.

Taylor and Dillon, each of whom is 6-1 and more than 225 pounds, are the runts of the litter. George, Bettis and Lewis are monster backs.

"I check him out. He's powerful. You wouldn't expect him to be that powerful. He runs it up in there like Bettis," Taylor said of Dillon, whose 1,320 yards rushing leads George by 70, Taylor by 83, and Bettis and Lewis by 134 each.

Amazingly, those five AFC Central backs currently occupy the third-seventh rushing positions among the AFC leaders, which means five of the top seven backs in the AFC and five of the top eight in the league are in one division.

"You get to say, 'Look at our division. Look at all the backs in our division,' " Taylor said of the pride factor.

In recent meetings against George and Bettis, Taylor came out on top. Sunday, he can measure Dillon, but he'll need some help from his Jaguars defensive mates.

"Bettis is the most physical runner. The one who can do it all is Fred. George and Dillon are similar. They're power runners who run behind their pads," defensive tackle Gary Walker said.

In the first meeting between the Bengals and Jaguars, on Sept. 17, Walker played a fantastic game, as the Jaguars held Dillon to a scant 32 yards in a 13-0 win that was the Jaguars' first-ever shutout. Taylor did not play.

"He's as good as his numbers," Walker said of Dillon.

That which impresses Walker the most about Dillon's accomplishments this season is that they are despite the fact that every opponent knows what's coming. The Bengals are number one in rushing, but dead last in passing.

"People know he's going to run the ball and he still gets yards. He does a great job of running off his blocks," Walker said.

How did the Jaguars stop Dillon in September? "Penetration," Walker said. "You want to make him run laterally."

Taylor hopes the Jags defensive line can accomplish that again. He'd like to make it threw in a row.

It's a pride thing.

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