The first month and a half of the 2016 NFL season was mostly irrelevant in terms of what Jeremy Hill did.
In his first six games, Hill failed to top 100 yards once and didn’t even hit 40 yards in four games. His 3.6 yards per carry average entering Week 7 was one of the worst marks of any NFL starting running back, though Hill didn’t even start in Weeks 5-6 while dealing with a chest injury.
That’s what made Hill's Week 7 performance so special. He looked like a different player against the Browns as he ran for a career-high 168 yards on just nine carries. After not having a run longer than 38 yards in the 2015 regular season, the third-year back had two runs of 40-plus yards vs Cleveland.
Hill broke tackles, juked defenders, threw stiff arms, and had the kind of burst we’ve rarely seen from him this season. It all helped him finish with a ridiculous 18.7 yards per carry average, bringing his season average to 5.2 yards per carry. In his rookie season, Hill averaged 5.1 yards per carry on the year.
“It was big. He ran really hard,” Andy Dalton said of Hill’s big day. “He broke off with a big run and just before the run I said, ‘Are you going to come out and get Gio (Bernard) on the board?’ And he said, ‘No, now I’ve got to get on the board.’ And two plays later it happened. Just goes to show what his mindset is and his attitude is. Our line did an unbelievable job blocking for him.”
Members of the Bengals defense were also happy with what they saw from Hill.
“It was great to see him get his mojo back and start making plays,” linebacker Vincent Rey said of Hill. “He’s a 230-pound back that’s agile, but when he gets in the secondary he has three options: run that way (left), run that way (right) or try and run through the guy. I love seeing him carry the ball. And, the offensive line did a great job, because we had over 200 yards rushing”
Even so, head coach Marvin Lewis continues to demand more from his star runner.
“Obviously, he had the two big long runs,” Lewis said of Hill. “But we keep overemphasizing to him, ‘Keep your shoulders pointed up the field.’ When he does that he’s special. He bounced one outside and he gained a yard-and-a-half. He looked at me right away and shook his head and I go, ‘Yeah, I know.’ But that’s good. He’s still a young guy who is understanding, and he has to keep going and we know he’s a heck of a talent.”
It was pretty easy to forget about Hill over the past two weeks as he rarely touched the ball, while fourth-year back Giovani Bernard got most of the snaps. Part of that was due to the Bengals’ offensive line struggling to open up holes for either back, but they both found plenty of success against Cleveland, finishing with a season-high 271 rushing yards.
“For us as running backs, the only thing we can work on is being solid with our reads and just breaking tackles,” Hill said. “We all did a good job of that today by keeping runs going and just making plays. If we can continue to do that, it will definitely help our team out and our running game will definitely help us win football games.”
Hill’s chest injury also led to him not seeing the field much in the second half on Sunday, but he looked pretty healthy against the Browns in Week 7 when he was playing.
“I could have gone back in. It’s just a little shoulder I’ve been dealing with for the last few weeks,” Hill said. “I’ll be fine. I could have gone back in but Marvin (Lewis) pulled me out.”
This was exactly the kind of game Hill needed in order to show he’s still one of the NFL’s best young backs. If Hill continues to play the same way we saw him play on Sunday, we’ll be seeing many more Bengals wins this season.