What Happened To The Bengals’ Running Game?

The Bengals’ running game against the Niners on Sunday looked like a blind man walking in strange territory. No matter how many times the offense tried to pound the rock inside, the San Francisco defense was ready with an answer. The playoffs are right around the corner and the formula for balance seems off. What’s wrong with the ground game?

The Bengals’ passing game has been the talk of the NFL. Before Andy Dalton went down in Week 14, he was in the conversation for MVP. Dalton was set to break personal and franchise records with the game planning of Hue Jackson. But did that cause the Bengals to depend on the pass more than the run? What happened to the running game?

Before you get too concerned, take a closer look at the San Francisco defense. They were torched in Cleveland. A good look at the stats from ESPN will show that the Browns ground game was awesome. They ran over the Niners defense for 230 yards. Johnny Manziel had a decent game also. The bottom line, without getting overly analytical, is that San Francisco plays better at home. The Bengals truly have some things to worry about. But the ground game of Week 15 isn’t one of them.

Running Game [Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]The San Francisco 49ers are a team that plays much better at Levis Field. When the Vikings brought their high-octane running attack to the Bay Area, they were stopped cold. In fact, the Niners held Adrian Peterson to 31 yards rushing on 13 attempts. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard did fairly well compared to that total. Other teams have met the same fate when venturing onto the Niners home field.

The Bengals do need to get the running game going. But facing a fired-up Niners team that has a pretty good defense isn’t the biggest concern. The problem has been the inconsistency of Hill. In games against the Rams and Browns, Hill seemed to run with purpose and power. In Week 14, the Steelers held him to 16 yards on seven carries.

Hue Jackson is a coordinator that loves to impose his will upon the other team. If he feels like running, that will be the main course of the day. If he feels that the pass will win the game, he’ll stick to it. With that being said, there are times when Jackson may need to alter the plan and make in-game adjustments. Hill was largely ineffective against the hyped-up Steelers front seven. They were stacked at the line and dared the Bengals to throw. It was a game of chicken.

Running Game [Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]When he was being utilized, Bernard was a lethal weapon for the Bengals. For the game, he averaged 6.7 yards a pop. Yet he was only given seven chances to shred the Pittsburgh defense. If the Bengals’ offensive coordinator lets him loose for at least 10 more carries, to balance the load, he ends the day with at least 107 yards and possibly another score.

The 1988 Bengals team that made it to Super Bowl XXIII had a running back duo similar to Hill and Bernard. James Brooks and Ickey Woods presented a combination of speed and power that overmatched teams.

Woods was the power back of the offense while Brooks was the change-of-pace runner. The veteran was as impressive both as a runner and a receiver, often making defenders miss with his elusiveness. He churned out 931 yards and eight touchdowns on 182 carries. Woods ended the year with 1,066 yards on 203 carries with 15 touchdowns.

If Bengals coordinator Bruce Coslet could find a way to get over 2,500 yards rushing – with the help of Stanley Wilson – Hue Jackson should be able to work a little magic with the talent he has. What happened to the Bengals’ running game? They need to find out before they head to Denver.

[Feature Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]