Heading into the 2011 season, the Bengals had a lot of question marks. How was Andy Dalton going to perform? Was he even going to be the starting quarterback? How well will the offense perform under rookie offensive coordinator Jay Gruden? How will the Bengals defense respond to the losses of Johnathan Joseph and Keith Rivers? Up to this point of the season the Bengals have responded well to those questions.
However, going into the 2011 season the one position that was expected to perform well and carry this team was running back. But that has hardly been the case through the first five games. Led by Cedric Benson, the Bengals were suppose to have a dynamic ground attack that includes Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard, that would hopefully maul opposing defenses. Instead, they have been inconsistent through the first five games.
On Sunday against Jacksonville the Bengals only managed to gain 77 yards on the ground on 31 carries. That equaled an ugly 2.5 yards per carry. Benson managed to gain 53 of those yards, but it took him 24 carries to reach that mark. The week before against Buffalo, Benson dashed for over 100 yards on 19 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per touch.
That has been the story of Benson all season. It's either a hit or miss with him it would seem. He hasn't been able to find any consistency up to this point.
Against Jacksonville the Bengals offensive line appeared to be unable to create running space for anyone. And Jay Gruden felt that for the most part, the offense did not perform to their expectations.
"A 35 mile-per-hour wind and they're playing Cover Two. That's the one time you want to be able to run the ball," Gruden said. "I think the offensive line and tight ends and fullback and backs will tell you they didn't have their best game."
But how much of the blame should be placed on Benson's shoulders? He can't do everything on his own. If the offensive line is unable to create holes and opportunities then he is not going to be able to help move the chains. Benson isn't going to be a play-maker, like he was once probably considered. He isn't going to run over any opposing defenses. If the hole is there then he will put up some yards, otherwise he is going to be stopped. He needs help from Andrew Whitworth and company.
With the return of Bobbie Williams everyone anticipated that the pass and run protection would become more stabilized. It was expected that with his return the Bengals offense would transform into a consistent threat in the air and on the ground.
Another element that should be considered is the lack of touches Bernard Scott has seen through the first five games. Currently he only has 13 carries for 36 yards. Those aren't sexy numbers by any means. But if saw some more consistent playing time then maybe he would be able to put up some bigger numbers.
Another week brings another opponent. And at this point who knows what kind of game we will witness from the running game. It's a team effort and the Bengals cannot solely rely on one player to carry them. Otherwise it's going to be a long season.