The Bengals rushing offense averaged 95.0 yards per game (29th in the NFL) with a 3.6 yard-per-rush average (30th in the NFL) in 2008. Playing his first game in a 22-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys during the fifth week of the season, Cedric Benson's 747 yards rushing led the team with Ryan Fitzpatrick's 304 yards rushing beating out Chris Perry's 269 yards as the second most productive runner on the team. Yikes. The Bengals rushing offense that season was sickening. Granted, the quarterback situation was bad and the offensive line was a disaster. All combined, it was simply terrible.
One year later, things changed. The offensive line made a series of changes which meant that Bobbie Williams was the only starting offensive lineman to return to his position while Andrew Whitworth moved out to left tackle; Anthony Collins, Nate Livings, Evan Mathis, Dennis Roland, Kyle Cooke became starters and contributors. Carson Palmer returned after having lost most of his 2008 season with an injured elbow that he suffered against the New York Giants and the team replaced Chris Perry and Kenny Watson with rookie Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard, who was traded for in the offseason.
All that change and the Bengals became one of the better rushing offenses in the NFL. Their 2,056 yards rushing ranked ninth. The team's feature running back Cedric Benson rushed for 1,251 yards. Considering he missed three games on the season, his yards-per-game average was second to a guy that rushed for over 2,000 yards. Bernard Scott added another 321 yards rushing and a 4.3 yard-per-rush average and Brian Leonard's third down contributions out of the backfield was instantly epic. Oh, and Benson rushed for 169 yards against the Jets during the team's 14-24 loss during Wild Card weekend.
One of the reasons for the team's success in the running game was their use of the unbalanced line. Bringing in another tackle, like Roland, to play the tight end spot forced defenses to adjust. Rather than having an average-at-best tight end taking on the edges, Cincinnati's use of a tackle out wide opened lanes. You could probably argue that the team's use of an unbalanced line was the primary reason for the team's rich successes in the rushing offense.
And don't expect that to change. NFL.com's Pat Kirwan writes:
Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis discussed how his team effectively used the unbalanced line on offense last season. The Bengals would bring in an extra tackle as a tight end and force defenses to shift over based on how the Bengals constructed formations. Lewis said that the various ways that unbalanced line was used made opponents prepare for a lot of extra things. The Bengals plan on using that strategy again in 2010.