One of the most significant problems of the Bengals’ season has been their inability to run the football effectively. Through the first four games, the Bengals only managed to gain 323 yards on the ground, which includes a relatively good day running the ball against the Denver Broncos (143 yards, two touchdowns). That’s 180 yards total rushing against the Steelers, Jets, and Dolphins combined.
“It’s tough. It’s tough because we know the guys we have on this team,” Bengals running back Giovani Bernard said after Sunday’s loss in Dallas. “It’s just for some reason, it ain’t clicking right now.”
That’s certainly right; it’s not clicking.
This week, Bernard received the start over incumbent Jeremy Hill. The Bengals looked generally wretched in the 28-14 loss to Dallas, although it is worth noting that Bernard got things going on the ground (5.6 yards per run). His performance was one of the few on the day that was particularly encouraging, even though the team got behind early and couldn’t continue to commit to the run. If he can keep that level of play up, the Bengals’ offense will have the opportunity to follow suit as they work out the rest of their issues.
“We’ve got to get some chunks in the run game situated. We had a couple of plays, maybe nine or 10 yards, but we didn’t have enough.,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “If you can run the ball when you’ve got to high looks, it makes things easier.”
Hill only ran the ball four times, recording 12 yards in the process. It was a bad performance that proved that the Bengals still have some significant kinks to work out in the running game. He is simply too talented of a player to be recording 3.8 yards per run on the season (or 3.0 on Sunday).
Unlike Bernard’s performance, Hill’s was the kind that makes it tough for the offense to put together any kind of significant attack. To an extent, you can blame the Bengals’ offensive line for not opening up holes. But, when Bernard busts out runs like this, you have to wonder why Hill can’t do something similar.
“We just ain’t playing, man. It isn’t us,” Bernard said. “It’s frustrating when you know the guys you have on this team and for some odd reason, it’s just not clicking. It’s frustrating, but that’s football. We have next week and hopefully, we can switch it up.”
Next week the Bengals face off against the New England Patriots, who rank fourth worst in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (128.0). It seems like a simple enough prospect to fix the running game’s issues against a unit like that. But, the Bengals just faced off against the NFL’s worst rushing defense in the Dallas Cowboys (155.2 rushing yards per game allowed), struggling to run the ball with Hill on plays like this.
When the Bengals are losing more often than they are winning, like they have so far in 2016, there is always going to be a lot more talk about what is going wrong, rather than what is going right. Right now, it just happens to be the case that the Bengals’ running game is the most obviously glaring hole on the team.
To be fair, the Bengals’ defense looked atrocious when giving up 28 unanswered points through the first three quarters, before finally looking competent with a solid fourth quarter performance. But, the Bengals’ offense looked bad on Sunday, too, a lot of which had to do with the fact that they got behind early and couldn’t commit to the running game because of that. It’s even more frustrating knowing that the Cowboys didn’t do anything different than what they normally do, so the fact that the Bengals couldn’t put anything together just comes down to a lack of preparation and delivery.
“The same thing was on film,” Bernard said. “We just didn’t execute.”
But, the thing is, the Bengals did execute when Bernard was running the football. He was also effective as a pass catcher. Bernard is starting to separate himself as the Bengals’ best option for running the football. There was a time when Hill looked to be the better option, but the coaching staff would be crazy to continue trying to make Hill work when the team so obviously needs some semblance of an effective running game to help out the re-tooled passing game. Based on what we saw in Dallas, it should be obvious that Bernard gives the Bengals the best chance to execute that strategy.