Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
07 Nov 2013
by Ben Muth
Welcome back to another edition of Word of Muth. Regular readers may have noticed that this column was absent from the rotation last week -- I apologize, sometimes these things happen. I’ll try to make that the last miss of the season. This week we'll take another look at the Bengals, examining what went right and what went wrong against the Dolphins last Thursday night.
The Bengals offensive line played pretty well. Cameron Wake gave the right side of their line problems in pass protection, but for the most part I would say Cincinnati won the battle up front. It wasn’t the sharpest game I’ve seen them play, but the Bengals probably would have won if not for some costly turnovers. Really though, I came away with three main takeaways.
This may not seem like a big deal, but in a league where there are about 40 tackles that seem to be good at their jobs, one team having three is a minor miracle. Most people reading this column are probably aware that Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are both good players. They're probably the best tackle tandem in the league this year now that Sebastian Vollmer’s season is done. So instead I want to focus on Cincinnati’s third tackle, Anthony Collins.
Collins is a sixth-year pro from Kansas who has been with Cincinnati since they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. He has turned into a very effective tackle -- particularly as a pass blocker -- despite never being a full time starter. His game kind of reminds of me Kansas City’s Branden Albert. Both are athletic, but in kind of awkward-looking ways. You watch them play, and after a couple of quarters you can’t believe they haven’t been beaten more. It seems like they constantly put themselves in bad positions only to re-position themselves at the last moment and make the block. Here’s an example from last Thursday’s game.
At the snap, Collins gets a good initial set. He’s well-balanced and has created distance so he can react to the defender. His hands are too low (which is probably his worst habit as a pass blocker) but overall he’s in good shape off the ball.
Where he gets in trouble is when the rusher makes a hard inside move. You can see in the third frame that Collins' feet are too close together, he’s leading with his head, and he has absolutely zero separation. It’s a terrible position to be in, especially considering the rest of the line was sliding away from him.
But somehow Collins repositions his outside hand right under the defender's armpit and just lifts him off-balance and into a pile inside. It doesn’t look that great in stills, but it was impressive on tape. He’s really in bad shape in that third frame, Half a second later he’s throwing the rusher ass-over-teakettle. It’s one of those plays that you want to credit to luck, but he recovers like this often enough where you have to just concede it as a skill, like a bad ball hitter in baseball or Shawn Marion’s runner in basketball. It’s ugly, and it makes you shake your head, but it gets the job done.
It'll be interesting to see what kind of interest Collins gets on the open market. He’s set to be a free agent at the end of the year and I imagine there are enough teams out there with a need at left tackle that he will be an attractive target. I could certainly see him getting something like a four-year, $15 million dollar deal. That would be tough for Cincinnati to match for a third tackle.
I’m still a big fan of Kevin Zeitler. He can flat-out move people in the running game. For me, if there’s one thing that separates the really good guards from the serviceable ones, it's the ability to move a 325-pound man backwards against his will. Zeitler can still do that. His problem is that he hardly ever punches in pass protection.
When it comes to his pass set, Zeitler far too often will lunge with the crown of his helmet and leave himself vulnerable to quick lateral moves or arm-overs. It’s something I’ve mentioned in the past. I chalked it up simply as a young guy being over-aggressive at the time. My concern now is that he has stopped lunging at guys with his head, but he still isn’t using his hands. Now, instead of firing out too much, he’s overcorrected. He is playing too far back on his heels and is catching everything.
This is from the game-deciding safety. Look at how high Zeitler is when he makes contact with Wake. Notice how far off the ground his outside foot is in that second frame. This is just about as close to being literally on your heels as you’ll see for an offensive lineman. He’s in trouble right away because he’s too high to generate any power from his legs, so when he catches rather than punches, he has no chance. If you can’t anchor because you’re straight-legged, and you can’t shock a defender because you don’t punch, you really are just kind of standing in the way.
Any separation being created here is coming from Wake. Look at where Wake's hand is: right in Zeitler’s arm pit. That’s great hand placement by Wake in frame three, and terrible hand use by Zeitler. The only way Zeitler is using his hands at all is illegally to Wake’s face.
Wake continued to lift Zeitler’s inside arm from the pit and all Zeitler could do was lean on him like a drunk on a lamp post. Unfortunately, Wake is much quicker than your standard lamp post, so Zeitler ends up doing his Superman impersonation. That led him right into the first ever Kryptonite Green X of Great Shame.
Down the line, though, you'll see another example of Collins recovering late on the edge. In the third frame he’s in terrible shape: he’s completely straight-legged and his arms are outside the defender’s frame. (Some of Cincinnati's straight-leg issues can likely be attributed to fatigue, given it was an overtime game on Thursday.) But if you look in the fourth frame you can see Collins replaced his hand on the defender’s elbow. Collins then lifts the rusher’s arm up and ends up holding his point just short of Andy Dalton. It wasn’t ideal, but he did enough to keep Dalton clean had Cameron Wake not been there.
By now I assume most of you have seen Giovani Bernard's touchdown run in the third quarter. The one where he takes a toss, reverses his field, and makes just about every single Miami defender miss at some point. On that play, A.J. Green missed a block at the point of attack, Tyler Eifert missed a block on the same guy Green missed, also at the point of attack. (I think Green tried to block the wrong guy.) Nobody even tried to block the middle linebacker. Really, just about everything that could go wrong for the Bengals, went wrong. And they ended up with a long touchdown run because Bernard treated the Dolphins like a bunch of high schoolers. I know this isn’t exactly the nuanced analysis I typically aim to provide, but the fact that Bernard isn’t getting 75 percent of the snaps at running back is dumb enough that I had to check and make sure Todd Haley wasn’t involved.
That does it for this week. Next week, we'll be doing something different, looking at a unit that isn’t one of the three teams I regularly cover here. It’s an offensive line that went from being horrendous in 2012 to being monstrous midway through 2013 and I’m looking forward to examining some reasons why.
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9 comments, Last at 14 Nov 2013, 6:59pm by theslothook