CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 02: Kyle Cook #64 and Cedric Benson #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrate after the 23-20 victory against the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
“I always expect to get a lot of love every Sunday. I prepare for it during the week through every phase of my life on and off the field. But you never know… I feel like we could have put that team away earlier in the game. I feel like offensively we leave a lot of plays out there at times and allow the opponent to stay in the game.”
- Cedric Benson after the game (or on Monday)
My initial reaction suggests that Benson is looking for more carries, because that's the obvious perspective of a cynical sports fan, living through an age where the selfish athlete has taken precedence in the reactionary mind of fanatical supporters. That reaction includes the understanding that not only is Benson facing a possible suspension, he's only playing on a one-year contract and needs as many opportunities as possible for a job next season. Perhaps that one-year deal, which is worth $3 million, includes incentives that reaches an additional $2 million, giving him $5 million on a one-year deal, provided he reaches certain escalators he's worried about not reaching.
Or is he being practical that he should be more featured in an offense where he's already on pace for over 300 carries, consumes 73.3% of the team's total rush attempts and 75.5% of the team's total rushing offense? That being said, his 19.3 carries/game average is his lowest dating back to 2009.
Yet there's a certain truth that when Benson is heavily featured, the chances for the Bengals to win rise significantly. Check these out:
|Rushes for 100 yards or more:||12-2|
|30 carries or more:||5-0|
|25 carries or more:||13-1|
|20 carries or more:||18-4-1|
Some with argue that Benson's high production, especially the carries, is a flawed argument because the bulk of his work is merely to put teams away. It's not so much the affect of winning games as it is putting them away by milking the clock. Of the games he posted 30 carries or more, the Bengals won by an average differential of 14.2 points; only once was a game within a touchdown. Of the games he posted 25 carries or more and the Bengals won, the average differential was 10.7 points, which doesn't include last year's 49-31 loss to the Buffalo Bills (we're scrubbing that out of the M.C.P. database).
That being said, using that argument is also a disservice. Consider Dallas' loss to the Detroit Lions last week. Sporting a 24-point lead after Jason Witten's touchdown early in the third quarter, the Lions were forced to punt after consecutive Matthew Stafford incomplete passes. On the first play on Dallas' ensuing possession, linebacker Bobby Carpenter intercepts a Tony Romo pass and returns it 34 yards for the touchdown. Dallas gets the ball back and seven plays later, Romo is intercepted by Chris Houston, returned 56 yards for the touchdown. Two pick-sixes later and now the Cowboys are leading 27-17, squandering a 24-point lead.
Look a little closer to home, with the Bengals sacrificing a seven-point lead against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to convert a third-and-13 that led to two interceptions and a three-point loss last season.
Where the issue of Benson arises is a simple matter of production based on the game's circumstances. If the Bengals are leading into the fourth quarter, the Benson factor significantly improves Cincinnati's chances to secure the win. For instance the Bengals have entered the the fourth quarter with the lead in 15 of their previous 37 games (including the team's wild card loss to the Jets); Cincinnati is 12-3 in those games and during one of those games (Raiders in 2009), Benson was inactive with an injury.
We're not necessarily saying Benson is critical towards the Bengals overall chances to win games. But if the team is winning and there's someone to consume yards and the clock, Benson is as good as any in this league and gives the team a greater chance to seal those wins.