CINCINNATI -- Given how difficult it has been at times for the Cincinnati Bengals to get their running game going, the following might come as a surprise.
Bengals rushers are currently on pace to have their best season in the Marvin Lewis era.
The numbers are straightforward. If the Bengals across the next two weeks continue running the way they have all year, they will gain more yards in a season since before Lewis took over as head coach in 2003. It's also possible they will have a higher rushing average than in any other season in the last 12. They also will have a higher first-down conversion percentage running the ball than at any previous point under Lewis' tenure.
Already, one Bengals season rushing mark under the coach has been set. Cincinnati's 18 rushing touchdowns is more than it has had in any year since 1999 and is just five shy of tying the franchise record.
Earlier this week, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth emphatically said he felt the Bengals were running better than was perceived. Out to see if he was right, we crunched the numbers:
The Bengals' current 4.28 yards per carry is tied for their second-highest mark after 15 weeks in the last 14 seasons. If they finish the season averaging that number, they will set a record under Lewis. It'll be the highest yards per carry average for them since 2000, when they averaged 4.7. That was the same year Corey Dillon rushed for 1,435 yards, the third-highest season tally in franchise history.
Cincinnati's current 1,824 yards also is its most through 15 weeks since 2009, when it had 1,840. On pace to finish this season with 2,084 yards, the Bengals would have the most rushing yards in a season since 2000, when they had 2,314. They did go over 2,000 yards in 2009 but settled at 2,056.
As of now, the Bengals have converted first downs on 24.6 percent of their rushes. That's tied for the best first-down production via the run since 2002, when they also had a rushing first-down conversion rating of 24.6 percent.
The Bengals' 18 rushing touchdowns this season already are more than any other Lewis-led team. The previous high was 15, set in 2005. The franchise mark of 23 was hit in 1985, 1986 and 1998.
So, why does the perception exist that the Bengals haven't run well this season?
It's probably because at the beginning of the year, they didn't. One small part of the issue was that the run had trouble getting established because the Bengals were on the losing end of two blowouts through the first seven weeks. Forced to pass to get back into those games, they abandoned the run much earlier than they have in recent weeks.
Across the first eight weeks, the Bengals ranked 21st in rushing yards (780) and 22nd in rushing average (3.96 yards per carry).
Since Week 9, they rank second in rushing yards (1,044) to Seattle (1,324) and seventh in rushing average (4.56).
What's been the pivotal change to the running game since Week 9?
Jeremy Hill. That was the week the rookie took over for Giovani Bernard, starting three straight games while Bernard rested a series of injuries. Named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, Hill on Sunday had his third game with 140 yards or more on the ground since Week 8.
Even after Bernard eventually returned, Hill's playing time increased, and so did the Bengals' rushing production.
It would be wise for them to keep giving him the ball.