Cincinnati Bengals: Giovani Bernard gives running game a new dimension

CINCINNATI — Giovani Bernard darted through the Steelers' defense for two touchdowns and the lead. BenJarvus Green-Ellis finished them off with between-the-tackle runs.

The Bengals' backfield is starting to cause double trouble.

Cincinnati is getting quick returns on its investment in Bernard, a rookie brought in to give them more of a receiving threat out of the backfield. He led the way in a 20-10 win over Pittsburgh on Monday night, running for one touchdown and turning a short pass from Andy Dalton into a 27-yard score.

In the fourth quarter, the Bengals (1-1) brought in Green-Ellis to get some tough first downs and essentially run out the clock, handing him the ball 13 times.

Cincinnati can now run it up the middle with Green-Ellis or dump it off and let Bernard make 'em miss for a big play.

"He's shown he's a different type of back and he has great speed, and his size is a real factor," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said this week. "He'll outrun a lot of players to the end zone. He's almost like a Darren Sproles out there, so he's definitely one to keep an eye on, especially after his success last game.

"Obviously Green-Ellis is going to be their guy, their running back, but they'll have a good change-up."

On Sunday, the Packers (1-1) will try to do better than the Steelers at keeping the running backs contained. The Bengals ran for 127 yards against Pittsburgh and became the first team to pile up 400 yards overall against the Steelers in a non-overtime game since 2010.

The dual threat at running back had a lot to do with it.

"They're two different styles of guys," Dalton said this week. "Benny's a guy that gets the tough yards, really does a good job in pass protection, the run game.

"Then we have Gio, who's a different kind of back — catches the ball really well, really quick, shifty. So it's good to have both of those guys. Those two guys really bring a lot for us, what we didn't have for the last couple of years."

The Bengals' running game has been confined to more of a straight-ahead approach the last few years with Cedric Benson and Green-Ellis running between the tackles. They drafted Bernard in the second round to give them more options in their West Coast-style passing game.

Against the Steelers, Bernard ran eight times for 38 yards and caught one pass, a dump-off from Dalton that he turned into a 27-yard score in the second half.

"It's nice just to be able to throw a 3-yard check-down and have him take it for a touchdown," Dalton said. "Explosive plays -  that's what he brings for us."

Bernard slipped out of the backfield, turned to his left, caught Dalton's short flip and outran the defense down the sideline, which exactly what the Bengals envisioned when they drafted him.

"Gio has been that guy and that's why he was the first running back selected in the draft," coach Marvin Lewis said. "It's not too big for him."

With the lead in the fourth quarter, the Bengals let Green-Ellis finish it off. He carried 22 times overall for 75 yards, averaging 3.4 per carry against one of the league's toughest run defenses.

The running game is a work in progress. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has a lot of options this season with the two runners and two tight ends - Tyler Eifert taken in the first round to complement Pro Bowler Jermaine Gresham.

Bernard figures the way they're used could change from game to game rather than having a set rotation.

"They never really give roles out like that," Bernard said. "Once you get the opportunity, you've got to shine."

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