As the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff takes stock of the offensive struggles during the bye week, it’s a good time to look at how much responsibility should be placed on the offensive line.
ESPN has the Bengals ranked 30th in its pass block win rate metric at 45% and 21st in run block win rate at 70% (it’s worth noting there are only four percentage points separating 21st from third in the RBWR).
But from the staff’s perspective, the performance has been better than what those numbers indicate and certainly better than where the line was in previous seasons.
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How Has the Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Line Played So Far?
“I’ve been pleased with their performance,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said.
“I think in pass pro, we’re markedly improved. We’ve played some good fronts, but they’re doing the job we want them to do. I’d like to give up maybe one less sack per game. There’s always one that gets home. Some of it’s schematic, some of it is somebody losing somewhere.”
The Bengals have allowed 14 sacks, which is tied for the 12th fewest in the league. They’ve allowed 44 pressures, which ranks 11th.
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And when you take the volume aspect out of it and consider the team’s 247 dropbacks are the fourth most this year, the numbers look even better.
Burrow has been sacked once every 17.6 dropbacks, which is tied for eighth best.
“You can play great as an offensive lineman for 70 plays, but you give up one bad play that turned into a sack, and that’s all you’re thinking about,” offensive line coach Frank Pollack said. “Whereas on defense, you can get your ass kicked for 69 plays, and you get one sack, and all anyone is talking about is what a great game you had, which is bulls—t.
“You’re always looking to be perfect and pitch shutouts and be right on point with everything you’re doing as far as blocking,” Pollack continued. “I think we’ve done a lot of good things, but there’s some things we need to do better and clean up. All of that said, we’re way ahead of where we were last year at this point.”
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The Bengals spent big in free agency two years in a row to help bolster the offensive line after that group cost them a victory in Super Bowl LVI. It was Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins in 2022, and Orlando Brown Jr. this year.
Per Pro Football Focus, Brown ranks 27th among 61 qualifying tackles in run blocking. Jonah Williams, who moved from left tackle to right due to Brown’s arrival, is 31st.
Among guards, Alex Cappa is 15th of 53 qualifiers, but Cordell Volson is 51st. And of 30 centers, Ted Karras is 17th.
“We’ve gotten caught a couple times on blitzes, that’s a fact,” Pollack said. “So kudos to those guys on defense. That’s going to happen. But overall, over the course of a season, you get more of a sample size. You’re hoping to come out way ahead on those things. And we expect to do that.”
Through six games last year, Burrow was pressured on 20.1% of his dropbacks while taking 43 hits and 22 sacks. Through the first six this year, he’s been pressured a career-low 17.4% of the time with a career-low 14 sacks and 39 hits.
“We’re good enough to be 3-3,” Pollack said. “But there’s room to get better. Whatever the situation is, we’ve got to step up to the challenge. And no matter how tight the margin for error, that’s the nature of offensive line play. As a coach, as a unit, as an offense, you know the issues that we’re trying to work through and limit.”
The Bengals are ranked 32nd in rush offense, but that has less to do with how the offensive line is blocking and more with how rarely the team runs the ball because it’s a volume stat.
And head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan count passing yards on RPO plays as rushing yards, given that those plays are extensions of the run game.
Still, in terms of yards per carry, the Bengals rank 26th, and there have been some problematic issues in each of the last two games, with the four failed runs on the goal line at Arizona and the 3rd-and-1 stop at midfield on the first play of the fourth quarter Sunday, to name a couple.
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“In the run game, we’ve been good, but we can be better,” Callahan said. “We can get more out of the run game than we’ve gotten. But I’ve been pleased with their performance. I feel so much different about going into games than we did two years ago. It just feels different. Everything about it feels much more solid and nailed down.”
The Bengals will be tested immediately coming out of the break. The 49ers rank ninth in PRWR, the Bills are third, and the Texans second. In terms of run stop win rate, the 49ers are ninth and the Bills are seventh.
“I’m excited for how things will be done,” Pollack said. “We’ve done a lot of good things, but it ain’t all roses and sunshine either. You can be undefeated and still have a s—load of things you need to work on. So we’re excited about our successes, but we know the areas we’ve got to improve on, and we will.”
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