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Film Room: Giovani Bernard’s pass blocking skills are unheralded

While the Bengals’ offensive line has struggled in pass protection this year, the team’s multi-dimensional back has been outstanding in picking up defenders in recent weeks.

NFL: International Series-Washington Redskins at Cincinnati Bengals Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

For those who have followed the “Unsung Hero” series we’ve done at Cincy Jungle over the years, we usually like to nominate the big boys in the trenches because their play usually gets overlooked by that of the skill players. While we’re not doing a vote and a true post on the award this week, running back Giovani Bernard would likely have been a prime candidate.

As the Bengals move into the bye week at 3-4-1, there are a number of areas they are looking to clean up. All levels of the defense need to play better, while the offensive line’s decline in play over just one season, particularly in pass protection, is startling.

However, one successful and unlikely facet is working well on passing plays. Even though the Bengals’ line is currently tied at 31st in giving up 25 sacks, Bernard has been quietly helping out in a big way.

Bernard, who is smallish in stature and is known more for his versatility with the football in his hands, has been sticking it to would be pass-rushers to give quarterback Andy Dalton more time. It’s not only a testament to Bernard’s value as a three-down back, but also to the club acknowledging all of his aspects that make him a great player and signing him to a long-term deal this offseason.

Week 8 in London against the Redskins showcased an ability by Bernard that has long gone overlooked. On many occasions, Bernard stayed in to block on passing plays and took out Washington defenders.

Andy Dalton’s overtime scramble:

Dalton had a nifty 14-yard run with just under nine minutes to play in the game. What’s obvious to note is the juke Dalton put on the defender in space to pick up the first down, but look who initially springs the quarterback with a block on an outside rusher.

Bernard, with his head on a swivel, sees the blitz from slot corner, Kendall Fuller and completely takes him out of the play. If he hadn’t, Fuller would have flushed Dalton towards engaged defensive lineman and a big third down conversion might not have happened.

Tyler Eifert’s 22-yard reception:

One of the bigger pass plays of the day came from Dalton midway through the fourth quarter. Trailing 24-20, the Bengals needed to get into the end zone. Dalton sailed a nice pass to Eifert for a big gain on a third down that eventually became a 1-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Hill, who, by his own right, had a good day at the running back position as well.

But, look who takes on the blitzing, versatile defender, Su’a Cravens. The rookie hybrid player found a lane straight to Dalton, but Bernard not only stepped in to alter his route to the quarterback, but also stymied him on a block.

The difference between Hill and Bernard as blockers:

Now, let’s preface the next clip with a bit of something to note with Hill. While he isn’t as good of a blocker as Bernard, this clip does have Hill attempting to block after a play-action, so it gives his failure to block the edge rusher a bit of a pass.

Still, he’s late off the edge to help out, which is obviously his duty on the play, and we’ve seen Bernard recover on similar plays to help out effectively. Hill is a good ground-and-pound guy and even helps out as a receiver much more often than most would figure a guy his size can, but blocking just isn’t his forte.

The disadvantage with Bernard used as a blocker:

Bernard staying in to block is obviously helping an offensive line that is struggling, but there is something that gets sacrificed when that’s his role in a given play. As mentioned before, Bernard is obviously a great receiver and his staying back takes out a potential passing weapon for Dalton.

Perhaps Tyler Eifert’s return is limiting the need for Bernard to step in as a passing option, but he’s been a nice outlet for Dalton since he arrived in 2013. However, the adjustment to use Bernard as more of a blocker has become apparent by his two catches for 21 yards in the past two games.

He’ll undoubtedly continue to help, but the aspect that will allow him to be more of a receiver than a blocker going forward is improvement along the offensive line.