Over the course of the last five weeks of the 2017 season, the Bengals fed Giovani Bernard the ball. Bernard unequivocally delivered.
Giovani Bernard had a somewhat slow season last season heading into Week 13. The Bengals had been running a running back by committee approach to start the season, then gave the reins to Joe Mixon. However, injuries cut Mixon’s rookie season short, forcing the Bengals to turn to Bernard to close out the year. Bernard did not take that opportunity lightly.
Over the course of the last five games, Bernard received 95 touches. On those 95 touches, he compiled 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. Those five games accounted for 60% of his total yards and 50% of his total touchdowns. When he got the work, Bernard exploded, even behind a weak offensive line.
Weeks 13-15 was a dark stretch for the Bengals, as they dropped three straight games and fell from the playoff race. Bernard was solid, but not electric in those weeks. He really popped in Week 16 against Detroit – a game Detroit needed to win. Bernard took 23 carries and 7 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown. 23 touches, 7 catches, and 168 were all by far season highs for Bernard. Bernard’s touchdown also came late in the game and was the sealing score for the win.
Watching Bernard absolutely gash a desperate Detroit defense (headed by none other than Teryl Austin) was inspiring. It reminded me and many Bengals fans just how good Bernard can be when he gets touches in space. He’s quick, agile, and has great field awareness. His touchdown scamper in the fourth demonstrated all of those skills to a T.
PFF’s grades for Bernard agree. He was a solid runner throughout the season, but he clearly improved during the last five weeks. Not only did his elusiveness improve overall, he also forced more missed tackles among defenders. Bernard was the 28th most elusive running back in 2017, but was 21st from Weeks 13-17. Also, he had 16 of his 21 missed tackles on the season come in those last five weeks.
Bernard’s late season success also served as a reminder that he was by far the most effective Bengals running back last season. The Bengals O-line was horrific , ranking near the bottom of the league in both run and pass blocking. Even behind that line, Bernard averaged a tight 4.4 yards per carry. That total was almost a full yard better than Mixon’s 3.5 a carry. Mixon should improve this season, but Bernard was definitively a better back last season.