What now for Giovani Bernard and the Bengals?


Dec 7, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (25) carries the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers won 42-21. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

There is a report from yesterday which says that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is considering the employment of a running system which emphasizes a single running back.  Here’s what Hue Jackson had to say on the topic yesterday.

"“I’m used to having one guy kind of dominate some carries because in order for backs to be really good, they’ve got to get lathered up to play. You’ve got to get a feel for the game. We have two capable guys and they’re different guys and we’ll let it play itself out, but I think we have a pretty good idea which way we’re headed…Those guys are very capable. I just don’t think I did a very good job this past week.”"

One can only assume that the single back approach would center on Jeremy Hill as he’s proven himself more capable this season.  This while Hill possesses the size and strength to handle the “bell cow” duties; for reference, Adrian Peterson is listed at 6’1″, 217 pounds while Hill measures at 6’1″, 238 pounds.  Hill’s incredibly large frame also allows him to hold up when blocking better than Bernard could.

When looking over the numbers, Hill has shown himself to be the superior running back in Cincinnati during some key circumstances.  Here’s a comparison between Hill and Giovani Bernard during some of these situations.

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Now consider this, Giovani Bernard’s 89-yard touchdown run came on first down when the game was tied.  When taking this run away, his numbers drop considerably in both categories, 3.3 and 3.8 respectively.  These numbers give Hill a huge edge on the ground.

When looking at the juxtaposition of these two when catching passes, many would be surprised to hear that Hill actually holds an edge also over Bernard when looking at yards/reception.  Currently, Hill has 24 catches (28 targets) for 201 yards (8.4 yards/catch).  Meanwhile, Bernard has 28 catches on 43 targets for 224 yards (8.0 yards/catch).  This doesn’t necessarily mean Hill is the better of the two through the air.  Bernard is generally put into more difficult passing situations while running more difficult routes.  Bernard is the better receiver of the two.

With all this in mind, it makes perfect sense to have Jeremy Hill begin to lead the Bengals’ backfield.  And with this beginning on Sunday, according to Giovani Bernard, where does this leave Bernard within this offense?

Bernard’s “demotion” shouldn’t necessarily been seen as one.  He’s going to be incredibly important for this offense going forward and could provide the Bengals with something they’ve been missing.  Since Andrew Hawkins‘ departure, the Bengals have been missing a receiving threat who thrives in space the way Hawkins did.  Bernard is more than capable of performing this duty while also presenting more of a dual-threat comparatively to Hawkins.  In this way, Giovani Bernard should be used in a Darren Sproles-like role, something that Stripe Hype highlighted earlier this season.

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Bernard’s presence on the field forces opposing defense’s to spread out as he’s an incredible weapon on short routes.  His presence would compel linebackers to spread out or secondaries to pull forward.  This would open up the field for wide receivers while allowing Jeremy Hill more space to run.  Bernard presents both and excellent weapon and decoy on the field.

And can you imagine the trick plays Hue Jackson will be drawing up with both Hill and Bernard on the field?  Bernard could even be trained as a returner much in the way of Darren Sproles.  His Madden-like moves and elusiveness gives him the necessary skill-set to be an excellent returner.

Giovani Bernard may not be leading the Bengals’ backfield going forward and this is likely best for the team.  Yet, it doesn’t mean he can’t have a vital role for the Bengals going forward.  He presents a great threat for the Bengals through the air while also presenting a viable threat on the ground, especially during passing situations.  Bernard’s skill-set is unique and so much can be done with his unique ability.  I imagine Hue Jackson we’ll have a “field day” dreaming up new ways to use a fresher and less banged-up version of Giovani Bernard while giving opposing defense’s fits when deciding where to place their focus.