Though the Cincinnati Bengals are no longer undefeated, there’s still a loss that they have to figure out. The 8-1 Bengals gave a lackluster performance against the Texans and suffered a defeat they didn’t have to. The balance that was present seemed to have been tossed to the side. Until they find the running game, Cincinnati may be in trouble with upcoming opponents.
The Bengals seemed to have lost the running game. That was the secret weapon that kept teams honest last year. With three of their offensive pieces on the sideline for the majority of the 2014 campaign, the Bengals turned to Jeremy Hill. He stepped into the spotlight and wowed the franchise with his ability to turn his shoulders, hit the hole and ramble for five or six yards. This season, Hill looks slow and indecisive. Those are traits that mean bench life for a running back. But Hill still gets playing time.
Hill had another unproductive game against the Texans. If the Bengals are going to keep pace with the Patriots, they must make a serious move to get the running game untracked. Until this point, Andy Dalton has had to carry the burden of the load. There is a slight balance, but only when Giovani Bernard is handling the load in the backfield.
In the Texans matchup, Hill averaged a mere 2.1 yards a carry. In a manageable third down situation, that’s not enough to get a first down against a good front four.
The Bengals sense that something is awry with Hill. His snap counts are down this season as well. Per statistics by SB Nation, Bernard (49) was involved in twice as many plays as Hill (20). That’s a whopping 72 percent of the plays.
Hill is without answers to his lack of production. Most are going to say it’s the dreaded Sophomore Slump that has its grip on Hill. But the Bengals’ running back is searching for answers.
“For me, personally, I’ve got to step it up,” Hill said via The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I haven’t played to my potential. Everyone knows that, including myself and my coaches. It’s on me. It’s not on anyone else. I just gotta continue to keep pounding, keep practicing hard. I think I’ve been practicing hard, I’ve just got to continue and find another gear in there in practice and hopefully it can translate over to the games.”
The Bengals need the ground game to pick up considerably. The leading rusher against the Texans was Andy Dalton. He had 30 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. That’s unacceptable for a team chasing the No. 2 playoff seed.
“We can’t let there be any carry-over,” Dalton said, during post-game interviews. “That’s not the team we are, and we know what we’ve done to this point. This game doesn’t define our season. It doesn’t define anything. We’re still 8-1. We’re still leading the division. We know where we are.”
The Bengals are actually in search of a running game that has mysteriously vanished.
The Bengals’ offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, has been under pressure to run the ball more. In the Bengals last two games, the disparity and results can be seen. Against the Browns, the Bengals had 27 passing plays and 31 rushing touches. That was a balanced game and the result was a blowout. The 16-10 win over the Steelers was another pass happy effort. Jackson and Dalton teamed for 38 pass attempts and just 17 rushes. A late scoring drive saved the day. The same scenario was evident. Dalton was asked to throw close to 40 times and the running game disappeared.
“We all know when it’s time to run, we’ll run,” Jackson said, as he addressed the issue. “We have to do what we have to do to win games. You guys understand that. Sometimes it’s this, sometimes it’s that. But we are a physical group. At some point in time you guys will see that and be happy about it.”
Bengals fans may not be high salaried analysts or coaches, but the evidence is there. When the Bengals are hesitant to run, the games seem to be closer than they need to be.
[Feature Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images]