Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill: How They Should Be Utilized


Nov 16, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) runs in the second quarter of their game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Fans are beginning to see why the Bengals made Jeremy Hill the second running back taken in this past draft (second round, 55th overall).  Jeremy Hill has been extremely effective and nearly dominant in his three starts this year accumulating 361 yards and two touchdowns on 63 carries (5.7 yards/carry).  He’s also had two runs of 60 or more yards, which shows his ability to break the big run, and has two games of 150+ yards.  Needless to say, Hill’s rookie campaign has been a success thus far.

Meanwhile, Giovani Bernard’s has largely been himself this season.  When given space, Bernard is simply dangerous and can produce big gains even off broken plays.

Backfields are generally built for diversity and the Bengals are no different than most. The skill sets of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are different yet they do have some similarities. Hill is clearly the bigger and more bruising of the two while Bernard is the shifty and more elusive one. Hill is the superior blocker, yet Bernard can put up a fight. Both are capable pass catchers out of the backfield, but Bernard thrives in space. Hill simply doesn’t require the space Bernard does, not with his ability to push a pile and shed would-be tacklers. The varying skill-sets gives the Bengals a dangerous backfield, but one that needs to be properly utilized in order to maximize its benefits.

After this weekend, Jeremy Hill now has slightly more carries on the year than Giovani Bernard. Here’s how the running stats look for each runner to this point in the season.

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And here’s the receiving stats for the two on the year.

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As one can see, even when compared to the supremely talented Bernard, Jeremy Hill stands up well.

Structuring the backfield cannot simply be done so by deciding who should receive more carries.  It’s the type of carries, the situations where each runner is utilized, and where each player should be lined up on the field.

When looking over split stats, a few things become apparent.  First, Jeremy Hill rules first down and short-yardage situations.  Second, Giovani Bernard is more effective within second-and-long situations.  Hill is likely the more effective running back on first downs and during short-yardage situations due to his size and strength, whereas Bernard has the upper-hand on second-and-long due to the threat he presents in the passing game.  Defenses must stretch themselves out a bit more to defend the potential pass, which gives Bernard more room to operate.  The theme seems apparent here.  Hill is the better back during the more predictable running situations and Bernard needs space to operate.

With this in mind, the Bengals must adjust their approach to running the ball going forward.  The Bengals have often used Bernard during prototypical running situations to start the season.  They’ve also used him near the endzone when trying to “punch” the ball in for a score.  These situations aren’t Bernard’s strong points, they’re Hill’s.  Meanwhile, Hill was often relegated to short-yardage situations to start the year, much in the way Benjarvus Green-Ellis was this past year.  Hill is capable of more than this and needs to be utilized more often and within varying situations.

But this doesn’t mean the Bengals should put Bernard on the bench.  The argument here lies more in how these two should be utilized and the idea that the Bengals may want to run more double running back sets such as this one.

Because Bernard is such a capable receiver, putting him on the field along with Hill would cause opposing defenses serious fits.  As you can see just in this play, Jaime Collins (91) is left to try and defend the right side (his left) on his own if Dalton keeps the ball and runs the option with Bernard.  It would give Bernard the space he needs to be effective and possibly put him in a 1:1 situation with an outside cornerback.

More than this, prior to the snap, the Bengals could move Bernard in motion all over the field.  There are very few linebackers who could deal with Bernard in space by himself while defenses would also have to adjust to such a dangerous weapon on the fly.  Also, one could envision a situation where Bernard lines up in the slot on the same side as A.J. Green.  Having Green run a 15+ yard route would clear out both a cornerback and likely a safety.  This again would leave Bernard with space and hence, in a very favorable position.  It likely equals a near-automatic 5-10 yards for the offense and numerous first downs.

When the Bengals let Andrew Hawkins go this off-season, personally, I presumed this was because they were confident in utilizing Bernard in a similar role at times.  They obviously want him on the field as much as possible and moving him around, pre-snap, simply made sense.

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Going forward, the Bengals must do so.  It’ll put Bernard into more favorable situations and allow him to be utilized much in the way Darren Sproles is; the comparison is striking in many ways.  It’ll allow Bernard to take less hits and extend his NFL life.  As for Jeremy Hill, the Bengals would feast off his spoils allowing him to do what he’s been doing.  He would put the team into more favorable second and third down situations by always gaining the extra yard or two.  This would put Andy Dalton in more favorable throwing situations and hence, would put less pressure on him to complete difficult passes; a goal the team has already made for the year.

The backfield doesn’t need to be shook up nor does either back need to relinquish significant snaps.  The Bengals simply need to adjust how they use their backs by putting them in more favorable positions.  It’ll help them individually and the team as a whole.