Is the answer to the Cincinnati Bengals' running back questions already on the roster?
The Cincinnati Bengals running game this year hasn't exactly made anyone forget about names like Corey Dillon or Pete Johnson. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, one of the team's top free agent pickups in the offseason, has been underwhelming as the coveted "bell-cow" back, though he continues to perform solidly in a short-yardage role (for years a Bengals weakness) and most recently upped the ante with a pair of 100-yard rushing games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders.
However, much of Bengaldom remains convinced that The Law Firm in Not The Answer. Tar Heel running back Giovani Bernard is among names being bandied about as possible second-round picks next April. But 2013 is looking like a weak year for running backs, and even as Green-Ellis gathers some momentum, another Bengals running back is turning some heads. Like Jay Gruden's:
Gruden also admitted that Cedric Peerman has taken the team by surprise as he moves from seldom-used backup to change-of-pace back. Peerman has had to fight the stigma of being a sixth-rounder who excels on special teams, but with bursts of 31 yards last week and 14 the week before, he is showing he can provide some of the quickness Scott was supposed to show.
“I’d say a bit of a pleasant surprise. We needed him to step up in that role. It was a tough loss when Bernard went down, we had high hopes for him. When he went down we thought we would lose that change-of-pace guy. I didn’t think he’d be known for breaking a long one like he’s done but we are surprised about that. Just keep getting him more touches.”
Yeah, I mean, whoda thunk it? It's only Peerman's third year on the roster (insert facepalm here). But enough. I come tonight to praise Cedric, not bury Jay. After all, before last weekend, what reason did they have to think he could break a big run? That's crazy talk. Better we leave him to collect highly questionable fines on kick coverage.
Okay, okay, I'll stop! But I think a lot of fans will understand since calls for more of Peerman have been getting louder all season. While he had a handful of carries in the first couple of games, it was week four in Jacksonville when Cedric "we didn't know he could break a long run" Peerman (OK, no more, I swear!) rumbled for 48 yards on a fake punt that sparked the team, then down 7-3, to a 27-10 victory. Peerman would repeat that feat against Kansas City, going 32 yards on another fake punt, en route to a career-high 75-yard day. He followed that with a 61-yard performance last week against the Raiders, which included a multiple-tackle-busting 31-yard scamper from scrimmage that, like the proverbial two-by-four needed to gain the mule's attention, finally drew the notice of the team's offensive coordinator (I lied).
Peerman's 16 carries in the last two games are triple the total number he's had in the four previous seasons combined and represent more than half of his total carries (29) for 2012 so far. Last year, Bernard Scott averaged seven carries a game in the change-of-pace role, generating a total of 380 yards on 112 lugs. On 29 carries, Peerman is already at 240. Even if you lop off the fake punts, Peerman projects out to almost 750 yards given Scott's 2011 carries.
So before we all get too excited pouring over draft guides for the Next Big Thing at running back, let's consider that the Bengals may already have a potent one-two punch in-house with Green-Ellis and Peerman. Even discounting the fake punt against KC they have still combined for more 400 yards in the last three games. The key will be how they perform in the coming weeks. Their last three opponents ranked 16th, 24th and 28th against the run. This week's opponent, the San Diego Chargers, currently rank fifth; after that there's the Cowboys (13th), Eagles (18th), Steelers (tied at 5th with San Diego) and Ravens (surprisingly 26th). If the new Dynamic Duo can keep it up against the stouter run defenses in the league, running back will become an afterthought next April.