CINCINNATI -- The Jeremy Hill who plowed through opposing defenses for more than 1,100 yards last season has barely showed up this season.
Cincinnati Bengals second-year offensive coordinator Hue Jackson remains convinced the power-running tailback with a scatback's second-level speed will eventually resurface. In order for that to happen, Jackson believes Hill has to do exactly what he has done so far this season: keep running.
"I said it a year ago, it's not about the [yardage] numbers," Jackson said, "it's the attempts."
Jackson isn't so concerned with how many yards Hill -- who Jackson maintained is still the starter -- and his other running back, Giovani Bernard, are collecting on the ground in games right now. If Jackson starts getting wrapped up in watching the lackluster in-game yardage numbers, he might sway himself into going away from running the football. He and the Bengals don't want to do that. Whether playing from behind by a couple scores or entertaining a big lead, the Bengals want to remain as multifaceted on offense as possible.
If they become one-dimensional, it could spell disaster for the rhythm their balanced play-calling has provided quarterback Andy Dalton this season.
"The numbers will come," Jackson said. "I'm not worried about where the numbers will be. They will be what they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there.
"People have to understand that."
With a 4.01 yards-per-carry average, the Bengals aren't moving the ball quite as well as they did after five games last season (4.22 yards per carry). But true to Jackson's desires, they are running it slightly more. In 2014, they had 151 rushes through five games. This season, they have 155. Both numbers are significant jumps from recent seasons and rival the 156 carries the Bengals had after five games in 2005. Those 156 carries (which had an average of 4.03 yards) are the most the team has had in the first five games of a season since Marvin Lewis became head coach in 2003.
Clearly, the Bengals believe a continued rushing attack is among the secrets to their 5-0 record -- a start that outpaces even the 4-0 beginning they had in 2005.
Where the Bengals have enjoyed rushing success this season is in the goal-line scenarios that have led to many of their eight rushing touchdowns. Of the eight, Hill has five -- all of which have been from 8 yards or less. Last season, the Bengals had five rushing scores through five games. In the previous 11 seasons, they averaged just under three rushing scores through the first five games.
Perhaps Hill's lacking production (3.03 yards per carry) stems from the Bengals' relative lack of running out of the two-back, I-formation setup that got him many of his yards last season. H-back Ryan Hewitt isn't lining up as often as Hill's lead blocker as he did down the stretch last season. Hill and Bernard also haven't been on the field simultaneously this year. By this point last season, they had been part of eight plays together.
"This is Year 2. I never said it was going to look exactly the same as it did last year," Jackson said. "But I know we have to run the ball, and we will continue to run the ball. We're not ever going to shy away from that. We can run the ball better. But how we run it, whether it's two backs, one back, six backs, I don't care, we'll find a way. You have to have enough attempts against really good football teams because if not, too many things can happen to your quarterback that are not fair and fun."