Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard enters Sunday’s game in Baltimore ranked second among NFL rookies with 628 yards from scrimmage, trailing only Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy’s 674.
But with 81 rushes and 30 receptions, Bernard had 35 fewer touches than Lacy (134 carries, 12 catches).
That’s an average of 12.3 touches per game for Bernard, a number Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said probably deserves to be higher based on Bernard’s production.
“He’s proven that the more he touches it the more dangerous he is,” Gruden said. “He’s still a rookie, and Coach (Marvin) Lewis has done a good job of building up the pace that he wants. Eventually he might get more. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m fine with it.”
Starting running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis leads the team in rushing yards with 424, but Bernard is right behind at 361 despite having 50 fewer carries.
Green-Ellis has 133 total touches this season to Bernard’s 111.
“I never really try to count the touches anybody gets,” Gruden added. “People make a big deal about how many times we throw it to A.J. (Green) or not throw it to A.J., or how many times Gio gets it or not gets it. I try to go with the flow of the game, but obviously when Gio’s in there I know when he’s in there.”
And when he’s in the game and the ball is in his hands, there are no restrictions whatsoever, which was evidenced in Miami where he reversed field and went several yards into the backfield before completing a shifty, serpentine sprint for a 35-yard touchdown.
“It’s not something that’s encouraged, but it’s not something where it’s ‘don’t do it,’ ” Bernard said. “You just have to feel comfortable with what you’re doing. Like Barry Sanders in his time. He was one of those who lost a lot of yards to gain a lot of yards. Instinct kind of took me the opposite way, and I was able to just break out and the lead blockers out ahead of me did a great job.”
Gruden said he trusts those instincts every bit as much as Bernard does.
“As soon as you start telling a guy like that where to run and how to run you put handcuffs on him and he becomes ordinary,” he said. “We will take the bad with the good and hopefully great comes out of it.
“It was a great play but it was terribly blocked,” Gruden added. “You get great players the ball out in space and great things will happen. That’s part of the setup of the play. Let’s get him out there and see what he can do out in space. Obviously, he did a lot.”
How much he will — or can — do Sunday in Baltimore remains to be seen. Bernard suffered a rib injury on what he said was his first carry after the touchdown run Thursday night, forcing him to miss the final five minutes of regulation and all of the overtime period.
His is listed as probable, but it is something the team will watch closely as any tackle — or even a broken one — could re-aggravate the injury.
Bernard practiced all week, but only on a limited basis.
“That first night was rough, but I feel good,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) at Baltimore Ravens (3-5), 1 p.m., 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM