When the Cincinnati Bengals head to Baltimore to take on the Ravens in their season opener on Monday night, they'll again be out a starting running back, with the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy reporting that Bernard Scott won't be playing.
That leaves new-to-the-team running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis to carry the majority of the load on the ground for the Bengals. But will he be effective against a Ravens defense that is consistently strong against the run?
Green-Ellis didn't play much in the preseason while he nursed a foot injury, so we have little clue as to how the Bengals plan to use him.
Further, Scott's absence increases the difficulty of predicting Green-Ellis' effectiveness. All we really know is how he performed as a member of the New England Patriots in the past four years and how the Ravens defense has succeeded in stopping the run.
The first word that comes to mind when thinking of Green-Ellis is "reliable." He's never fumbled thus far in his tenure in the NFL, but then again, he's never averaged more than 15 touches per game over his career in New England.
With Scott out on Monday, Green-Ellis will get at least 20 carries, and against a team adept at creating turnovers like the Ravens, one has to worry that his fumble-less streak could end.
The other issue with Green-Ellis is that he's not a speed guy. He's powerful, which makes him more than capable of running over defenders and breaking tackles, but he's not a make-you-miss style of running back.
That, combined with a Bengals offensive line with a rookie guard and a new starting center (Jeff Faine), could present problems for the entire Cincinnati running attack. Last year, the Bengals weren't too adept at running the ball up the middle, averaging 3.3 yards per play when they did, good for 30th in the league.
It doesn't help that Clint Boling (who has just three starts to his name) is starting in the place of the injured Travelle Wharton when much of Green-Ellis' strength lies in the ability to head up the middle.
There's a very small sample size to consider when looking at Green-Ellis' prior performances against the Ravens—he's dealt with them just once, and the results were not impressive. Though he notched one touchdown against them last season, he still had just 20 yards on 10 carries, for a two-yards-per-carry average.
The Ravens will be keeping all of this in mind when installing a defensive game plan for the Bengals offense. They are well aware that Cincinnati's offensive strength lies in its passing game, which means they'll be trying to force the team to run the ball more.
And then, it's all about stopping Green-Ellis from making significant gains.
The Ravens defensive front, to the Bengals' benefit, has undergone a number of changes in the past months that could benefit Cincinnati on the ground. Gone is run-stuffing linebacker Jarret Johnson, and all-around threat Terrell Suggs is sidelined with a torn Achilles tendon, which means Baltimore will be starting Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan in their place.
Kruger is going from being a situational pass-rusher to being heavily relied on to stop the run. This has produced mixed returns so far in the preseason, and it's clear he's still adapting to his new role.
Running to his side could prove to be more successful for Green-Ellis and the Bengals than later in the year, when he has more in-game experience.
That's cold comfort, however, considering that Green-Ellis will have to overcome nose tackle Haloti Ngata, linebackers Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain and the remainder of the very dangerous Ravens defense. While the lack of Suggs and Johnson works in the Bengals' favor, the rest of this defense still clearly knows how to stop an offensive attack.
With around 20 carries on Monday, Green-Ellis should put up a decent amount of yardage, but there's little to indicate that he will meet his career average of four yards per carry against a defense that, last year, gave up an average of 94.9 rush yards per game and 3.6 yards per rush attempt—not with an offensive line that has yet to get into a groove together against a defense like Baltimore's.
That's not to say that Green-Ellis isn't an effective running back—it's just that, in this game, in this particular situation, it's going to be harder than ever for him to get yards.
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