When Cincinnati Bengals officials began evaluating draft-eligible running back Giovani Bernard last year, they believed him to be a playmaker in the truest sense.
If the speedy multi-use North Carolina Tar Heels star was given even the tiniest crack of space, he could make something happen that could lead to a big, team-galvanizing moment, they felt. After all, that's exactly what his college game tape showed. Even though he only played two seasons at the level due to in part to injury, he already had moves upon moves. As they tried to take their offense to the next level, the Bengals believed he could be the key ingredient they had been missing for several seasons.
So far, the rookie is making geniuses out of Cincinnati's entire scouting office.
Even though he was a second-round selection, Bernard this season has been playing like a first-round talent. And now that it appears the Bengals are comfortable settling with a new offensive line setup that features Andrew Whitworth at left guard and backup Anthony Collins at left tackle, the first-year running back may end up being an even bigger component to the Bengals' balanced offensive attack.
Why is that? Because the holes the Bengals' offensive line has formed the past two weeks since the lineup shift have been downright massive. On sweeps and tosses left, with the athletic Collins and Whitworth pulling and blocking downfield, Bernard has had space to pick up large chunks of yards. On screen passes to the same side, he's shown he can pick up even bigger gains.
Just consider these stats, which we'll get into a little more detail about on the ESPN NFL Nation Bengals blog later this week: Against Indianapolis on Sunday, Bernard averaged 8.3 yards per rush on his 12 total carries for 99 yards. That's a very high average for a ball carrier who ran the ball more than 10 times. Along with that figure, he gained 148 yards of total offense. That number includes the 49 yards receiving Bernard had. Bernard's total yards combined for more than 34 percent of the Bengals' offensive production in the 42-28 win. That's the type of impact he can have on this team. And remember, he's still only a rookie.
As we get to a few quick Tuesday Morning Stripes, we begin with another look at Bernard:
Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson considers Bernard a "throwback to the future." The player upon whom the Bengals are pinning their playmaking hopes the next few seasons runs with a style like a few other running backs who are older than him.
In one of his blog posts for the Cincinnati Enquirer on Monday, Joe Reedy praised the Bengals' offensive line. For the last three games, the unit has kept quarterback Andy Dalton well protected. He hasn't been sacked in any of those games. Why? It's in part on Dalton and his ability to get rid of the football, and another part is on the line in just forming a better pocket than it has in other games this year.
Going back to Bengals.com, Hobson has this look at the stretch run Cincinnati currently is on as it tries to not only reach the playoffs, but grab a first-round bye or home-field postseason advantage. It appears poise and the calming influence of not having to play catch-up are what is defining this year's late-season push, Hobson writes. That's a little different than the way it has been in other recent seasons.
Head referee Jeff Triplette only reviewed the crossing of the goal line portion of a booth replay in Sunday's game that ended up controversially awarding Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis a touchdown. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told USA Today and the Associated Press the entire play was a judgment call, and Triplette could have gone back to the beginning see whether or not Green-Ellis had been touched by a defensive player, causing him to stumble just short of the goal line. After the game, Triplette indicated he never saw Green-Ellis get touched. The defender in question, Colts lineman Josh Chapman, said he did hit Green-Ellis' foot.