Bengals running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have struggled to get going this season.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
CINCINNATI (AP) — One of the NFL’s best offenses so far hasn’t done all that much on the ground. Given the circumstances, the Bengals aren’t all that concerned.
In Cincinnati, they’ve moved away from the run-it-first approach. Now, it’s whatever works.
The Bengals (5-0) have remained unbeaten while getting only one 100-yard rushing performance. Giovani Bernard ran for 123 yards in a win over San Diego. Otherwise, neither he nor starter Jeremy Hill has come close to triple figures.
And it hasn’t really mattered.
With so many options in the passing game, the Bengals have gotten what they need without bringing in extra blockers and running it the way they did last season. But they know there’s going to come a time when the weather gets raw and they’ll have to run it more readily.
"I think you have to set your jaw at some point in time," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. "But it all depends on the flow of the game. The fun part of our group is we can play a lot of different ways, and that’s what makes the versatility that we have on our team really good."
Last season, the Bengals tried to become a run-first offense to take some of the pressure off Andy Dalton. They finished sixth overall with 134.2 yards per game and had six 100-yard performances.
Through five games this season, the Bengals rank 10th overall with 124.2 yards per game and only one 100-yard performance.
Part of the decline is related to the schedule. The Bengals have played defenses known for stopping the run.
"I think it will come," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "Every year we hit that point. In our division and with our style of play, later in the year running the ball seems to be more successful because of the cold weather.
"So you keep the hammer down. We definitely want to be better, but the reality is we’ve played teams that don’t give up rushing yards. It’s just a reality of the game."
The offense has been at its best when using three receivers, tight end Tyler Eifert, and Bernard, who is a better receiver than Hill but can also run the ball effectively.
The biggest decline in the running game has been in Hill’s production. He finished last season with three consecutive 100-yard games and finished eighth in the NFL with 1,124 yards rushing.
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So far, his best total has been 63 yards in the season opener at Oakland. He ranks 36th in the league with 176 yards and only a 3-yard average per carry.
"Jeremy hasn’t had the success that he had a year ago, and I think that’s what everybody’s looking for," Jackson said. "But Jeremy’s playing well. Jeremy’s still our starting tailback.
"Everybody has seen over the last couple of games that Gio has got more carries, more opportunities than Jeremy. Well, eventually that’s going to flip. It’s not going to stay the same and it’s not going to keep happening like it’s happening."
In the past four games, Bernard has carried 61 times compared to Hill’s 39 times. In the win over Seattle, Bernard had 15 carries for 80 yards while Hill had eight for 13 yards.
Given how well the offense is working overall, nobody’s complaining.
"I’m not too concerned about that," Bernard said. "We’re 5-0. At the end of the day, it can’t get any better than 5-0."
Notes: Kicker Mike Nugent was honored as the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Nugent kicked a 31-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to forge a tie, and then made a 42-yarder in overtime for a 27-24 win over Seattle. … CB Leon Hall (back), CB Adam "Pacman" Jones (groin) and WR Brandon Tate (illness) were held out of practice on Wednesday. WR Marvin Jones (foot), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hip), RT Andre Smith (elbow) and G Kevin Zeitler (elbow) were limited.