COMMENTARY| In Week 6, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for a game-high 86 yards on 18 carries in the Cincinnati Bengals' overtime win against the Buffalo Bills. Green-Ellis is the Bengals' leading rusher and the incumbent starter given his 1,000-yard season on the ground last year and his reliability for holding onto the football. He's a solid between-the-tackles runner with some burst to reach the second level and a battle-tested winner.
But the time to have Green-Ellis take a seat on the bench has arrived.
The desperation, broken-play shovel pass that Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton awkwardly sent end-over-end to RB Gio Bernard should've only went for a few yards to give the Bengals' another down in the red zone to try again for a touchdown. Instead, Bernard shifted and darted his way through the Bills' defense for a 20-yard TD and a 17-7 lead over the Bills midway through the second quarter.
The play was emblematic of why Bernard should be on the field all the time for the Bengals, and this eventuality is no secret given the way the rookie Bernard has availed himself on the field. Every time Bernard touches the ball, he is a threat to reel off a big play. While his backfield mate Green-Ellis certainly can continue to serve in a limited rotation and short-yardage purpose, he just is not physically capable of doing what Bernard does.
Continuity on Offense
Bernard has caught 20 balls for 201 yards through the first six games of the season for the AFC North leading Bengals. He has also rushed for 237 on 60 carries. The dual threat that Bernard poses is already used by the Bengals as much more than just a change of pace.
The more Dalton has Bernard on the field, the better Dalton can guide the offense and maximize the threat that Bernard poses to defenses. With Bernard involved as much as possible, the play calling and execution can finally be harnessed with an emphasis on big plays from two primary players -- Bernard and wide receiver A.J. Green. The Bengals won't lose much in the way of point-of-attack power by using Bernard over Green-Ellis because Bernard packs his own punch inside.
Having Bernard as the primary back may help Dalton simplify his options to the extent that Bernard will make Dalton a better QB by default, which is something the Bengals will most definitely need to finish the second half of the season with a flourish.
At some point this season, Bernard will be the Bengals primary back because he gives the Bengals the best chance to win as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. The Bengals have increased Bernard's workload as the season has progressed, so he is ready for all the wrinkles he will face and has learned what he should expect from himself now that he has proven he has all of the tools to be an elite back in the NFL.
Handing the ball over to Bernard now for a considerable majority of the snaps will help the Bengals position themselves not only for a AFC North title but also improve the offense as the second half of the season progresses for a definitive playoff run that should at the very least earn the franchise its first playoff win in 22 years.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for more than five years. He posts his NFL draft predictions each year at footballnostradamus.com.
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