Bengals' weakness: Running game

June, 4, 2009
6/04/09
11:00
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Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

Only three teams averaged less than the Bengals' 95 rushing yards per game in 2008. The inability to run the ball allowed opposing defenses to take away the deep pass with a deep safety rolled over Chad Ochocinco.

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Obviously, having Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center instead of Carson Palmer didn't help either, but the lack of a rushing attack for the majority of the season too often put the Bengals' defense in compromising situations and didn't allow that side of the ball to get enough rest.

Cedric Benson is going to carry the load for Cincinnati this year. He far exceeded my expectations last year and surely I was not alone in thinking he would not make a major impact in Cincinnati after being signed off the street. But he certainly can do some good things. He is a workhorse runner with excellent size and above-average power. His vision is good and he runs behind his pads. Benson is not a heavy-footed runner and does have some ability to turn the corner. He also is an adequate outlet receiving option out of the backfield.

 
  Andy Lyons/Getty Images
  Bengals running back Cedric Benson averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt last season.
However, Benson did average only 3.5 yards per attempt, which is actually even worse than the paltry 3.6 the Bengals managed as a team. He has reached the end zone just twice in his 12 games with the Bengals. In those 12 games, Benson had 747 rushing yards, but 282 of those yards came in the last two games of the season; so for the first 10 games, Benson averaged just 46.5 rushing yards per game.

That can be looked at two ways. In a glass-half-full scenario, maybe Benson finally hit his stride with his new team and it is a sign of great things to come. In a glass-half-empty scenario -- which is where I am leaning -- Benson accumulated that yardage against the hapless Browns and Chiefs in the final week of the season. In Benson's three appearances against the Steelers and Ravens, he carried the ball 30 times and mustered only 104 yards. The Bengals lost those three games by a combined score of 99-23.

Other than Benson, the Bengals have a few options, but no one to get overly excited about. They recently traded defensive tackle Orien Harris for Brian Leonard, a fullback/running back tweener who plays hard but is far from a dynamic option. The other most prominent candidates for carries include DeDe Dorsey, Kenny Watson and Bernard Scott.

Dorsey flashed a little with the Colts, but his five carries for eight yards last year isn't particularly enthralling. Although he is a good guy to have on the roster and can contribute in a variety of ways, Watson was handed the ball only 13 times last year. At best, he is a below-average No. 2 runner, but is really a third running back with special-teams abilities. Scott, on the other hand, does have some intriguing abilities. He is a rookie who has a very lengthy list of off-the-field indiscretions, but as the season rolls along, Scott might be getting significant carries.

Although the drafting of offensive tackle Andre Smith should greatly help pave the way up front, Cincinnati is extremely weak at center. That is a massive problem, especially with Benson being far better suited to run inside than on the edges. Why is it such a massive problem? Well, the Bengals play six of their 16 games every year against the likes of Casey Hampton, Haloti Ngata and Shaun Rogers. Enough said.

Cincinnati also plays five other teams that use the 3-4, along with the Vikings, who feature dominating defensive tackle Pat Williams. That is 75 percent of Cincinnati's schedule against a powerful nose tackle-type opponent. Like I said, this is a massive problem.

Having Palmer back and a vastly improved passing game will open up some running room. However, there is no way around it -- this running game is a weakness right now.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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