To get run going, Bengals must go with Gio

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
3:30
AM ET
Giovani Bernard Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsRookie Giovani Bernard notched his first two career touchdowns Monday in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI -- It started as a low roar and built into something more.

As Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton called for the snap to start a new set of downs, most of the 64,585-strong Paul Brown Stadium crowd was relatively quiet, to allow the hometown offense to continue plowing its way downfield.

Once Dalton fielded the shotgun snap and dropped back, the comparative silence would cease.

A split-second after his three receivers and one running back took off on respective routes, Dalton lobbed the ball some five yards past the line of scrimmage to his pass-catching tailback. At that exact moment, the roar began to grow in intensity. It heightened further as soon as the back turned his shoulders forward and started sprinting into the defensive secondary. With each blurred step his speedy feet took from there on, the volume increased.

Somewhere in the mass of orange, yellow and black humanity, surely some Bengals fan had to be yelling: "Go, go. Go, Gio, go!"

If Bengals fans weren't shouting it before, they certainly will every time the do-everything back touches the ball now.

By the time Giovani Bernard high-stepped across the goal line 27 yards later and slowed his gait in the back of the end zone, the noisy stadium had reached a deafening fever pitch.

It was the sound of a star being born. It was the sound of a go-ahead touchdown. It was the sound of a collective Aha! moment, as spectators and coaches finally got on the same page. At long last, they were speaking the same loud language.

If the Bengals want to replicate wins like Monday night's 20-10 victory over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, they will need to keep the conversation going.

To do that, they'll need to keep Gio going, too.

"It's not too many opportunities you get like that, and not many chances you get like that," said Bernard, a rookie, who had a pair of touchdowns. "Once you get that chance and they bust coverage, or whatever it is, you've just got to take advantage of it."

Go, go. Go, Gio, go.

Cincinnati made the North Carolina running back the first ball carrier taken in April's NFL draft, and Bernard took full advantage of the nine touches he was given against the Steelers. One week after being given four handoffs and getting passed to once, the young player was a key contributor in an overall offensive performance that was the Bengals' best since last November, and one of its best against the Steelers in the past decade and a half. In all, seven players caught passes for Cincinnati and four had carries in what Dalton considered a true team win.

"Everybody did a real good job," Dalton said. "The tight ends did a good job of getting open. … The line did a really good job blocking up front and we ran the ball well. It didn't really matter. We never knew what exact play was going to be called, run or pass, but I felt we could come out and execute."

One of the nine passes Bengals tight ends caught helped set up Bernard's other score, a 7-yard first-quarter run that gave them their first lead of the tight divisional game. The sprint prominently featured the 5-foot-9 rusher's quickness, elusiveness and ability to pop through the tiniest of holes.

[+] EnlargeGiovani Bernard
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsGiovani Bernard "did the things that we expect him to continue to do," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
Runs like it helped offset the power-running, contact-seeking style of veteran tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

"Bennie's kind of the tone-setter and the guy that runs really physical, but then Gio, man, he gets in there and they can't find him," left offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said.

Bernard finished with 38 yards rushing on eight carries, a clip of 4.8 yards per carry. Green-Ellis, the sixth-year running back out of Ole Miss, amassed 75 yards on 22 carries. His runs included one for 14 yards, and eight straight carries on a late-fourth-quarter drive that saw the Bengals convert a pair of first downs and drain enough time to make the Steelers' desperate, last-second comeback fail.

Total, the Green-Ellis and Bernard tandem supplied 113 of the Bengals' 127 yards on the ground.

Asked if the ground game's balance was a little closer to what he had drawn up in his mind in the offseason, coach Marvin Lewis coyly nodded his head: "Yes, it is."

"[Bernard] did the things that we expect him to continue to do. He had the great catch-and-run. He had a big run earlier," Lewis continued. "And then Bennie comes back and finishes it off. It was a good job by the two of them."

Go, go. Go, Gio, go.

Cincinnati's ground production came one week after the Bengals' pair couldn't crack 50 yards in a game that left fans scratching their heads about the rushing offense and wondering if it would exist at future points this season. Even offensive coordinator Jay Gruden told reporters a day after the season-opening loss at Chicago that he wouldn't be averse to making this a pass-first offense if the run game woes continued in that direction.

He'll be glad to know that, thanks to his more balanced two-man approach at tailback this week, he won't be needing to make those plans anytime soon.

It's a good thing, too, because now that Bernard has burst onto the scene and fulfilled every expectation Bengals fans had for him, don't expect them to keep quiet when it comes to discussing their ideal plans for scenarios that involve playing him. Lewis, Gruden & Co. will still want to ease the rookie into the flow of the offense, but it may be time they ease up on the reigns.

If this offense is going to continue to go, it's going to need more Gio.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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