Heading into the 2011 season on the heals of a quarterback change, an offensive coordinator change and coming out of the league's longest work stoppage, most Bengals fans expected the team to run the ball constantly to help set up a rookie quarterback for success. Turns out, that rookie quarterback, Andy Dalton, didn't really need a running game to find success as he and A.J. Green led the offense to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the running game struggled. The team brought Cedric Benson back for his fourth season and even though he ran for over 1,000 yards for the third season in a row, he struggled through the majority of the season, which was highlighted by a 14-yard performance in the team's wildcard game. Bernard Scott carried the ball more times this season than any year before but he was unable to give the running game a significant shot in the arm.
Cedric Benson was the team's feature back. He carried the ball 280 times for a total of 1,090 yards on the season. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry throughout the season, scored seven touchdowns and fumbled five times (in a two game stretch). He only had three 100-yard games and had more than 60 yards in less than half of the team's games (seven). Benson earned a PFF score of 5.4 when it came to running the ball but he was terrible at catching the ball out of the backfield, earning a score of -5.1. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Benson's game was his inability to pick up first downs on third- and fourth-and-short. Of course it wasn't all his fault, his offensive line didn't help much, but it's clear that Benson didn't have the ability to make plays on his own.
Bernard Scott carried the ball a career high 118 times for a total of 399 yards. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns on the season. The coaches, mainly Jay Gruden, felt it was important to split carries between Benson and Scott, which at times seemed to work but in general, the running game struggled. Scott had a PFF rushing score of 3.4 but like Benson, he had a negative score when it came to catching the ball out of the backfield, earning a grade of -4.3. He had an overall score of -2.6.
Brian Leonard was the only Bengals running back to have a high grade in 2011. Once again he served as the team's third-down back and once again he made some exciting plays. Leonard carried the ball 20 times for 119 yards, which adds up to six yards per carry. He also caught 28 passes for a total of 246 yards. He's by far the best receiver out of the backfield and he consistently seems to make plays when the Bengals need him to. He earned a PFF grade of 6.9 with a rushing grade of 2.2 and a receiving grade of 4.0.
Cedric Peerman was used more on special teams than he was at running the ball in 2011. In fact, he only carried the ball three times in Weeks 15 and 16 and those three carried went for 15 yards and he didn't catch any passes out of the backfield. He earned a overall grade of 0.4 on the season but he had a special teams grade of 3.9.
The offensive line struggled in 2011. The guards struggled as did the team's best offensive lineman, Andrew Whitworth, at run blocking. That combined with Benson's inability to break tackles and make plays on his own gave the Bengals the 19th-ranked running game.
Considering how much a solid running game could have helped the Bengals in 2011, the team's running backs earned a grade of "D" for their performances this past season. There is no question that the Bengals front office needs to bring a new running back, either acquired in the draft or in free agency, to Cincinnati for the 2012 season.
What grade would you give them?