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Bengals position review: running backs

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We continue looking back at the 2014 season, reviewing where things stand now and reflecting on what to expect in the future. We address the team's running back roster, which was one the best units on Cincinnati's offense this season.

John Grieshop/Getty Images

1) Jeremy Hill is clearly the team's offensive MVP

Jeremy Hill:

  • Stud.
  • Team MVP on offense.
  • Best offensive rookie the Bengals have seen since A.J. Green.
  • Best rookie running back since Corey Dillon, who himself earned that distinction comparative to Ickey Woods.

Hill led the team in yards rushing (1,124), falling five yards shy of Dillon's rookie rushing record, and also led the team in yards from scrimmage (1,339) and touchdowns (nine). Hill became the third rookie running back in NFL history to generate 140-plus yards rushing in four games, joining Eric Dickerson (five in '83) and Curtis Martin (four in '95).

Hill was named AFC Player of the Week after beating the Cleveland Browns and became only the second Bengals rookie in franchise history with two 150-yard performances (joining Paul Robinson in 1968). Hill posted 103 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the first half in that Browns game, setting the tone for a game that Cincinnati would easily win 30-0.

During the last nine weeks of the regular season, Hill led the entire league with 929 yards rushing, beating out Marshawn Lynch (824), who had the second-most yards during that stretch and STILL over 100 yards fewer than Hill. Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy (814), Dallas' DeMarco Murray (791) and Denver's C.J. Anderson (785) round out the top five. Hill's most iconic run of his rookie season was against Denver, sprinting 85 yards for a touchdown that responded to an Andy Dalton pick-six that left Green with a deep bicep bruise.

2) There is a weakness in Hill's armor.

Hill fumbled the football five times during his rookie season, losing two. One eliminated a Bengals scoring opportunity against the Broncos, allowing Denver to score their own touchdown and to take a 28-27 lead. The other resulted in a three-and-out against Cleveland during the Browns' 24-3 Thursday Night win over Cincinnati.

When the Bengals lose the turnover battle, they struggle to recover. Look at it this way. When the Bengals beat Tampa Bay earlier this season, it was the first road win with a -2 turnover differential or more since Cincinnati beat the Eagles in Philadelphia... on Sept. 11, 1988.

Since Marvin Lewis became the Bengals head coach, the Bengals are 14-57-1 when compiling a negative turnover differential. Turnovers are big.

3) Despite the numbers, a disappointing feel from Giovani Bernard

Take the numbers. Bernard replicated most of his numbers from 2013 -- and he did that missing three games in 2014.

2013 2014
ATT 170 168
RUSHING YARDS 695 680
RUSHING TDs 5 5
AVG. 4.1 4.0
REC. 56 43
RECEIVING YARDS 514 349
RECEIVING TDs 3 2
SCRIMMAGE YARDS 1,209 1,029

Eventually the Bengals began limiting Bernard's role as a running back, giving Hill more opportunities. It worked out for Hill but Bernard's role was reduced to a backup running back, doubling as a check-down option for Andy Dalton -- oh, my primary receiver is covered... go to Bernard. Oh my primary receiver is covered again? Go to Bernard.

Didn't it feel that Bernard was more of an afterthought this season?

4) The historic combination of Hill and Giovani

Hill (1,339 yards) and Bernard (1,029 yards) became the first Bengals running back duo since Ickey Woods and James Brooks to generate over 1,000 yards each from scrimmage.

In addition to that, Hill (85-yard touchdown against the Broncos) and Bernard (89-yard touchdown against the Panthers) each scored a rushing touchdown of 85 yards or more this season. This is the first instance in NFL history when teammates scored rushing touchdowns of 85 yards or more during the same season.

5) How do we look in 2015

Cedric Peerman, the team's leading tackler on special teams, is entering the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Rex Burkhead and Bernard are signed through 2016 and Hill is here through 2017. Barring any depressing scenarios, Hill and Bernard will be featured on the running back roster on offense, with the remaining players impacting special teams. We're fairly confident that Cincinnati will make a run for Peerman.