Sure, it was only the preseason, but Cedric Benson's debut with the Green Bay Packers was nothing short of sensational.
Entering Thursday's game at Cincinnati, the Packers' backs had carried 34 times for 74 yards, good for a paltry 2.1 yards per carry. Benson carried six times for 38 yards, good for 6.3 yards per attempt. The longest run by a back was a pitiful 6 yards. Benson had explosive runs of 8, 9 and 11 yards. Combined, the Packers' backs had just 13 receiving yards — all by Marc Tyler on four grabs. Benson turned his only catch into 10 yards.
"He knows the game," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "He's got a good running style. He hits the hole quickly and makes the most of his opportunities. I think the best is yet to come for him. When he gets his legs underneath him, it's just going to be more explosive runs. He's going to be a good addition to our offense."
He certainly was a good addition against the Bengals, for whom he posted three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
In a couple of important ways, Benson seemed like a poor fit for the Packers' system, namely his so-so ability to contribute as a receiver or blocker in the passing game. And while those liabilities remain, Benson is going to create some additional headaches for defensive coordinators.
With Rodgers, a deep group of receivers and a couple of dynamic pass-catching tight ends, coach Mike McCarthy prefers to spread the field. That means Benson will be running into plenty of six-man boxes, which should provide some easy yardage. The same was true, of course, with James Starks and Ryan Grant, but Starks can't stay healthy and the team's decision-makers felt Grant should have gotten more mileage out of his opportunities.
Breaking the numbers into the hundredths of yards, Grant averaged 4.17 yards per attempt last season. Benson's career-best mark came in 2009, when he averaged 4.15, and his career average is 3.77.
Of course, Benson hasn't played in such a wide-open offense since his days at Texas. With Chicago and Cincinnati, Benson was the focal point of the offense — and wore a bull's-eye for the defense.
"It's like a kid in a candy store," Benson said. "All I've got to do is press the hole and let the linemen get their headgear on one side and then explode through the hole on the backside. Like I said, it's like a kid in candy store. That's easy work for me."
While Benson won't be the focal point of the offense, he's good enough that defenses will have to respect him. To be sure, the play-action fakes that had all 11 Bengals defenders flowing in the wrong direction probably won't work so well and so often once the regular season begins. But they should work, nonetheless. Even with such a lackluster running game last season, the Packers ranked ninth in the league in play-action passes (22 percent of the time) and tied for second with 10.0 yards per play-action attempt, according to FootballOutsiders.com.
"Anytime you have another weapon on your offense, it helps the other side of it, whether it's a receiver that helps the run game or a good runner that helps the play-action game," coach Mike McCarthy said after the game.
Or, as offensive coordinator Tom Clements put it on Monday: "If teams want to play us with two high safeties and try to defend against the pass a little more, that opens up some more running lanes. And if they want to stop the run and bring an extra guy down, then we're one-on-one outside. We anticipate he'll be a good weapon for us."
Really, it's about the bottom line. In the first two preseason games, the Packers scored a total of 14 points in the first half. In Benson's first two possessions, the Packers drove 57 and 69 yards for touchdowns.
"I hope so," Rodgers said of continued success in the play-action game with Benson. "He's a big-name back who's had some success in this league and rushed for 1,000 yards the last three years. He has the right mentality for our team right now. He's very hungry, he's eager to learn, he's been spending a lot of time in the meeting rooms. He's excited."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.