When we handed out midseason awards a few weeks ago, we named Carson Palmer the team MVP and Cedric Benson the team's Offensive Player of the Midseason. In half of the first eight games of the season, Benson recorded over 100 yards rushing. Against the once dominating Ravens defense, Benson recorded 237 yards rushing and two touchdowns. When facing his old team, where some bitter resentment remains, Benson rushed for 189 yards against the Chicago Bears. He was kicking ass and didn't give two craps about taking any names.
Then, Benson reportedly suffered a hip flexor injury late against the Baltimore Ravens. He gave it a go against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he wasn't nearly at full strength. After that, Bernard Scott became the team's feature back and promptly rushed for over 100 yards against the Oakland Raiders. Not bad for a sixth-round rookie running back that no one in the world wanted to give a chance to in the NFL. You go, Mr. Redeemer and Bengals scouting department!
But the story of Benson has been the headline. He's dominated once good defensive rushing teams. He's remained in the top-five in major statistical categories until injury sidelined him against Pittsburgh. He's still the great comeback story of the season for both the Bengals and the league. He's the poster child of how to hit rock bottom, man-up, take responsibility and capitalize on your second opportunities.
Even though Scott did a fine job against the Raiders, the Bengals still need Benson back for the Browns. In his past two meetings against Cleveland, Benson has rushed for 245 yards rushing and a 4.38 yards-per-rush average.
The argument, which I think is a justified one, is to let Benson rest this week, if not next week too, readying himself for the stretch run into the playoffs. Scott has done well in two games, and the team has Brian Leonard and Larry Johnson to rotate in.
Here's where I think the argument could be faulty. Already having lost a game in which Benson didn't start, the Bengals are, right now, in the middle of their stretch run for the playoffs. They can ill afford to struggle against the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions with the Pittsburgh Steelers riding the Bengals in second place. The Steelers are also a team that's angry after losing to a 2-7 Kansas City team. I still believe that the loss to Oakland was a mulligan because no one else in the division made up any ground. However, you only get one.
The good news is that Benson did limited work on Friday after doing rehab work on Thursday. Marvin Lewis said that "I think Ced is in a good spot right now and we’ll make that decision on Sunday."
The next question, Joe Reedy writes, is "whether Larry Johnson will be inactive." Previously, Lewis has said that Johnson will be the fourth running back. He'll only go if one of the other three backs are injured and can't play. However, if Benson does play, but the injury limits his carries, would the wise decision be to keep Johnson on the active roster? Would they carry four running backs rather than three?
In the end, do we really care? As I told a friend of mine last night, "I just want the Bengals to beat the motherf***ing sh*t out of Cleveland."