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Friday, January 10, 2014
Comparing Hue Jackson's style to Gruden's

By Coley Harvey

CINCINNATI -- Now that he has officially taken over as the Cincinnati Bengals' new offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson has vowed to help get the team back to a physical, run-filled brand of football.

But will the Bengals actually exhibit such an identity?

The statistics show that if Jackson's previous stops as an offensive coordinator or head coach are any indication, the Bengals might not really run any more than they did the past three seasons under Jay Gruden, who vacated his post as offensive coordinator Thursday to become Washington's new head coach.

Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard
Signs point to an efficient ground game for Giovani Bernard and the Bengals under Hue Jackson.
Those stats do also show that if past trends continue, the Bengals will pass a little less than they have recently, while also rushing for a higher yard-per-carry average.

"We know we need to run the football. We want to run the football," Jackson said during a news conference Friday. "That's where it starts."

Before arriving in Cincinnati as a defensive backs coach in 2012, Jackson spent time coaching Bengals receivers from 2004-06. He also was an offensive coordinator at Washington (2003), Atlanta (2007) and Oakland (2010). In 2011, the Raiders promoted him to head coach before firing him at the close of the regular season. This past season, he was Cincinnati's running backs coach.

Along with harping on the need to run the football, Jackson admitted that he wasn't planning to get away from the pass, citing the need to avoid running a predictable one-dimensional system in today's NFL.

"We have some very talented players on the outside," Jackson continued. "We have to give them opportunities to make plays. We're not going to shy away from having to throw it when we need to. But in order to win and be a very good offensive football team, you have to be able to run the ball, and that's going to be a starting point for us."

Let's take a look back at Jackson's past run-pass balance as a play-caller at his earlier stops, and compare it to where the Bengals are coming from these past three seasons under Gruden. Specifically, we're looking at the rushes per game, passing attempts per game, and yards per carry.

First, here are Jackson's combined numbers in those statistical areas in his first two offensive coordinator stints. In two years leading the Washington (2003) and Atlanta (2007) offenses, his teams totaled:

Pass attempts per game: 33.8
Rushes per game: 25.2
Rushing yards per carry: 3.9

Next, the totals in those categories from Jackson's two Oakland (2010-11) teams:

Pass attempts per game: 31.7
Rushes per game: 30.3
Rushing yards per carry: 4.7

Next, and perhaps most importantly for this exercise, the totals from all four of those seasons (2003, 2007, 2010-11):

Pass attempts per game: 32.8
Rushes per game: 27.8
Rushing yards per carry: 4.3

Finally, a look at what the Bengals did under Gruden in the same categories the past three regular seasons (2011-13). Also included (in parenthesis), Cincinnati's averages in passing attempts, rushing attempts and rushing average per carry during the 2013 season. The Bengals this past regular season passed for nearly six plays more than they ran per game. They also ran nearly two times more per game this season compared to their three-year average:

Pass attempts per game: 34.0 (in 2013: 36.7)
Rushes per game: 28.5 (in 2013: 30.1)
Rushing yards per carry: 3.86 (in 2013: 3.6)

So, to summarize, if trends from Jackson's play-calling past continue, expect the Bengals to run slightly fewer times per game under Jackson as compared to this season. Also, don't be surprised if they have runs that have more impact under jackson than what they did under Gruden. There seems to be a better chance in Jackson's system to have more long runs than the Bengals have been accustomed to seeing.

Consider this. In Darren McFadden's third season, Jackson's lone year as the Raiders' offensive coordinator, he rushed for 20 yards or more 14 times. The next year, through just seven games before an injury sidelined him, McFadden had eight rushes of 20 or more yards.

In 2013, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard combined for four such carries. Moral of the story? Even if the Bengals run a time or two less under Jackson, they will be more efficient in the ground game, having more explosive plays than they have had recently.