- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- The question that many of you have had since the the first few weeks of the season is: How much better are the Cincinnati Bengals with Giovani Bernard on the field as opposed to BenJarvus Green-Ellis?
To many of you, a simple eyeball test reveals a relatively easy answer. Each Sunday the offense certainly looks more productive whenever Bernard is in the game and Green-Ellis isn't. Even when non-Bengals fans have taken a passing glance at Cincinnati this season, they probably felt the team was better when Bernard was on the field.
Your eyes and theirs didn't deceive. That's the way it all appeared to me, too. So, with a little prodding from one follower on Twitter, I decided to dig into the statistics to see if I could provide evidence as to what made the Bengals click so well with Bernard as compared to Green-Ellis.
Before we go any further, I want to make clear that this isn't an indictment of Green-Ellis. This isn't me advocating a one-back system headed by Bernard. On the contrary. This posting should prove that although Cincinnati's offensive scheme is much more productive overall with Bernard in the game, it still needs Green-Ellis in order to provide balance and to take some of the pounding away from Bernard's young and comparatively more fragile legs.
The Bengals' two-back setup is working. There's no reason for offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to abandon it.
Still, there are some compelling reasons for the Bengals to continue going with Bernard as often as possible in these next two regular-season games, and all throughout the playoffs if a postseason berth arrives.
In order to examine the two backs, I tapped into ESPN Stats & Info's statistics module and took a look at the team's numbers for when Bernard was on the field and when Green-Ellis was. I tried to look at as many categories that have something to do with ball movement -- or the complete lack of it; like turnovers -- as possible. Among the statistics I compared were those pertaining to yards per game and yards per play, time of possession, first downs per game, first downs per rushes, passing attempts and passing attempts in which the ball traveled 5 yards or less in the air, touchdowns, overall rushes, third-down conversions and the average margin of yards gained per game.
Green-Ellis has been on the field for 402 snaps this season. Bernard has appeared in 504. Green-Ellis has 666 yards rushing, 12 yards receiving and six total touchdowns. Bernard has 653 yards rushing, 416 yards receiving and eight total touchdowns. With Green-Ellis on the field, the Bengals as a team have scored 14 times and turned the ball over nine times this season. The turnovers include five interceptions and four fumbles.
With Bernard on the field, the Bengals have scored 25 times and turned the ball over 14 times; 10 interceptions, four fumbles.
Cincinnati's margin of yards gained per game is at plus-211 whenever Bernard is on the field. That means the Bengals are averaging 211 yards per game more than the opposition when he is playing. When Green-Ellis is on the field, that margin is at plus-139. The Bengals are picking up more total yards than their opponent when Bernard is on the field.
When it comes to third downs, the Bengals convert them at a 46.9 percent clip when Green-Ellis is on the field. When Bernard is on the field, they convert them at a 37 percent rate. That probably shouldn't be surprising. In short third downs, the Bengals are probably able to better move the pile with Green-Ellis than Bernard because of his physical style of play.
The Bengals also rush the ball more when Green-Ellis is in the game (221 carries) compared to Bernard (173). Bernard has been on the field for 27 minutes, 10 seconds this season; Green-Ellis has played 24 minutes, 2 seconds.