File this one under obvious. Some recent stats that were released by the geek squad over at ESPN (AKA the stat gurus) show that the Bengals are a more productive offense when rookie running back Giovani Bernard is in the game. The difference per play is a full yard from when Bernard relieves BenJarvus Green-Ellis at the position.
Bengals: Averaging 5.9 yards per play with Gio Bernard on field this season, and 4.9 yards per play with BenJarvus Green-Ellis on field.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 19, 2013
As CJ reader NastyNati513 noted a couple of days ago in one of our posts, the offensive ranking difference when Green-Ellis is on the field is 22 spots (No.28 to No.6). Coley Harvey of ESPN also expounded on some of the differences that are noted when each player is on the field. In short, there are quite a few eye-opening stats that beg the question of why Bernard isn't starting and/or on the field more often.
Now, there are a variety of reasons for this occurrence besides the obvious outcry of "Bernard is better!". First, the versatility that Bernard brings in both the run and pass games keeps defenses honest, which allows for some bigger plays. Another reason is that there are games when the Bengals have been behind and are forced to throw the ball more, thus getting more big plays. But, in all honestly, Bernard has better speed, hands and brings more to the offense than Green-Ellis does.
However, what Green-Ellis does can't be discounted. Though he is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry this year, "The Law Firm's" hammering style of running wears down a defense, as evidenced by his 41 first downs this season. In Weeks 13 and 14, the Bengals ran for a combined 319 yards--Green-Ellis had 150 of those.
Still, with the poor rushing performance last week against the Steelers, some are asking if the same game plan with the running game should be employed. If you listened to this week's episode of Who-Dey Weekly, you would have heard my stance. Basically, I believe, because of the production numbers mentioned by the ESPN sources, that the team should begin the game with Bernard and hammer with Green-Ellis later.
Why? Well, it seems that Marvin Lewis' and Jay Gruden's mindset is that of wearing down a defense early with Green-Ellis and let Bernard gash them later. That plan has come with mixed results thus far, and if you truly look at The Law Firm's style of play, he might be better suited to chew clock and hammer away at a tired defense at the end of the game. Bernard could tire out a defense early with his cutbacks and Barry Sanders-esque style of play (too soon?). A winded defense would have a tough time tackling a bowling ball-like back at the end of the game.
The good news is that the two-back system in Cincinnati has had some success this season. However, for more consistency and even higher production, the Bengals should play to the offensive numbers outlined above and get Bernard in the game earlier. They would still be able to use both guys, but given the yards-per-play difference, they could build an early lead with Bernard and then ice it in the second half with Green-Ellis.