Bengals’ Running Backs Must Block in 2015


May 26, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (25) runs drills with running back Jeremy Hill (32) during OTAs at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have done a great job building an effective and dynamic offense since the 2011 draft.  The addition of All-Pro A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton began the transition in 2011 while players like running back Jeremy Hill and offensive linemen Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher have been added in recent drafts.  The offense is on the rise and will likely prove effective so long as offensive guru Hue Jackson is running the ship.

Jun 16, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati will look to lean on their rushing attack in 2015.  The team has used several valuable draft assets to prepare the offense for such a strategy, and the team looks prepared to feature one of the league’s most prolific “ground and pound” games.  Jeremy Hill proved to be one of the NFL’s burgeoning stars in 2014 when he led the league in rushing yards during the second half of the season.  Backfield counterpart Giovani Bernard has demonstrated his dynamic skill set over his first two seasons, which has earned him the label of being one of the NFL’s best “offensive weapons.”

The Bengals also feature promising third-year running back Rex Burkhead who broke out a bit in the second half of 2014, and young fullback stud Ryan Hewitt who quickly became one of the league’s best lead blockers during his rookie campaign. The Bengals also featured one of the league’s best offensive lines.  So what does all this mean?

Yes, Cincinnati will likely possess an effective running game that will help lead the offensive charge, but the word is out on the Bengals as well.  Opposing defenses surely understand at this point that the Bengals will want to feature the run game, and so, they will most assuredly place extra defenders “in the box” in an effort to stem Cincinnati’s rushing efforts.  Defenses have utilized this approach often in the past preferring to dare Andy Dalton to beat them rather than allow themselves to be ground down by the bruising style of Hill.  Knowing this, Dalton must step up to the challenge finally and make the necessary throws in order to catalyze both the passing game and the offense as a whole.

This also means that the Bengals’ backs must be up for the blocking challenge.  Hue Jackson already pointed this out last year following the team’s close win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  This year, the backs will need to respond in kind.

If Cincinnati wants to keep defenses honest and help Dalton and the passing game, then throwing extra receivers on the field isn’t the way to go.  The team must keep players like Hill and Bernard on the field and force defenses to bring extra defenders up to the line of scrimmage.  Eight defenders in the box mean less defensive backs patrolling the deep part of the field.  With the requisite time to make throws, Dalton must exploit these situations.  Primarily the offensive line will provide the requisite time, but as Jackson points out, the running back will be responsible for blocking the extra defender.

Andy Dalton hasn’t been the best quarterback when asked to carry the offense and/or make plays when under duress.  Yet, for right or wrong, the Bengals will continue to put him under center meaning the rest of the offense must do all they can to help make this coming season a success when throwing the ball.  The offensive line has already proven its merit towards keeping Dalton clean.  Assuming that defenses will continue to challenge Dalton to throw the ball by stacking the box, the players who man the backfield must be ready to account for these extra defenders.  This effort could be the difference in several games and ultimately whether fans see 2015 as a success or letdown at year’s end.

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