Bengals running game should improve in 2017

Sep 29, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) against the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 22-7. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) against the Miami Dolphins at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 22-7. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The air attack will be solid for the Bengals. Now, there has to be more focus on how to get the ground game to match the passing.

Being a member of the AFC North has its merits. Things go in cycles and there’s always a chance to end the season at the top of the heap. But, one thing has never been a sure bet with the Bengals. From year to year, the running game has been suspect. With the exception of 2014, Cincinnati has put the load squarely on the shoulders of its signal-callers. Hopefully, the 2017 campaign will put an end to the drought.

At first glance, all looks fine with the ground attack. According to offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, the numbers were decent but have to get better. In fact, the stats from 2015 backed his comments.

"“We’re identical to where we were last year,” Zampese indicated, per “which is not what we were expecting, then or now. That’s our challenge. To find out what the new cheese is. To do what we already do better.”"

True. The Bengals have the talent to run the ball. They’re flirting with getting the balance they’ve lacked for a few years. But, the question of who and how is what takes center stage. Cincinnati went above and beyond to make contact with the big-name running backs from the NFL Draft. In fact, the emphasis was so impactful, fans began to wonder how any back would fare without a reworked O-line.

Who Steps Up?

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When the Bengals went against the grain (as usual) and snagged Joe Mixon, the guttural moans were heard throughout America. But, that’s a story and article that’s been written a thousand times or more. His raw ability–not to mention his attitude– is what has him in the Queen City.

Let’s get to Giovani Bernard, quickly. Running on a surgically repaired knee is never a promising venture. Don’t get it twisted. I like Gio and wanted to see him as the featured back. But, face the facts. His durability was always a concern. He’s a scat back built for speed. At 5’9” and 208 pounds, his frame can’t endure the constant pounding inside. Run him outside and the injuries will stay at a minimum. His forte is catching passes in space. Dangerous. But, this isn’t his year, barring a miracle.

Mixon is, of course, the man wearing the white hat. He’s the 6’1”, 226-pound knight in shining armor sent to rescue the village of Cincinnati from the evil Steelers. But, there’s one huge drawback to the deal. Marvin Lewis has to get off his high horse and let the kid play. His long-standing mantra of rookies getting little or no playing time has to end. Since Mixon was brought in to challenge and revive the run game, he should be allowed to play. With Gio having limited accessibility, it “might” happen. There’s a chance Cedric Peerman is tossed to the front of the class.

The Answer?

Jeremy Hill needs to prove a point. Since his breakout performance in 2014, he’s been average at best. The Bengals have used him solely as a goal line bomb to pound in a TD. This is his make or break year. When talking about the Bengals, it’s never wise to use definite terms. Being a fan, that tends to set up jinxes (clutches lucky coin). But, this is indeed a contract year for Hill. If he wants to remain in Bengals stripes, there can be no more excuses.

Yes, we all realize Hill has been riddled with injuries. Some were made public and others he just played through. Now, it’s time to get over the hump and prove his worth. Even if he has a better than average year, his performance has to be a resume for other teams. Just think Rex Burkhead in Week 17.

Next: The Watch List

Realistically, the battle will be between Mixon and Hill. If Peerman can make a cameo appearance, that would be great. Stanley “Boom” Williams could make some noise but he’s Bernard’s size. Tra Carson is itching to prove he deserves to stay. Overall, no matter who gets the shot to get carries, the running game will improve.