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Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow
Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 9 - The Bengals offense came out on Monday against their division rival Cleveland Browns and turned into a pumpkin on Halloween night. They were without Ja'Marr Chase, who is out with a hip injury, but the offense struggled to move the ball all night and didn't score any touchdowns until the game felt out of reach. The loss dropped Cincinnati to .500 and out of the playoffs for the time being.

Most people watching the game live would probably point to the offensive line as the biggest problem for the offense. Frankly, after watching the game back, it's hard to disagree with that assessment. When you play like the Bengals did in prime time, there's plenty of blame to go around, and the offensive line definitely deserves its fair share.

The big issue for Cincinnati fans is the five sacks that Joe Burrow took. It probably gave them unpleasant flashbacks of last year's Super Bowl, when Von Miller and Aaron Donald went over, around, and through anyone that tried to block them and won the game for the Rams.

There were more issues than just the sacks for Cincy—the running game struggled and some of the hurries were worse than plays that resulted in a sack—but we're going to focus on them since they provide an easy narrative for the issues the line faced.

Before I say anything else I just want to put it on record that Myles Garrett (95) is really good and this is a ridiculous move for a 275-pound man to make. That being said, if you're playing offensive tackle in the NFL, you are getting paid to block these types of athletic freaks and you have to do it better than this. Jonah Williams (73) had a rough night and gave up a couple of bad sacks for different reasons, so before we go too deep into him, I want to talk about chip blocks in general since that contributes to the sack here.

Not every chip block is called in the huddle. Sometimes they are added to the call, other times they're discussed in game planning meetings with a coaching point like "chip No. 95 any chance you get." I have no idea if this was a called chip or if it was a crime of opportunity. Whether it was called or not does change my opinion on how bad Williams is here.

Some offensive tackles actually hate chip blocks because they can suddenly change the trajectory of the rusher. Or sometimes the back will hit the blocker more than the rusher, which will really piss off a blocker. I'm sure Williams thinks the chip hurt more than it helped here, but if I was tasked with blocking Myles Garrett, I'd want all the help I could get.

If Williams knew there was a good chance the back would chip here, then this is an awful pass set that was just about guaranteed to end with him getting beat inside. Look at how much he turns his hips in his pass set before he even gets to Garrett at the top of the rush. He's not even perpendicular, he has gone past 90 degrees and is facing the opposite direction of the line of scrimmage by the time he goes to punch. That's never ideal, but it's particularly bad if you think you might be getting outside help in the form of a chip. There's no way Williams can redirect inside with Garrett spinning around. Ducking your head when you go to punch makes it that much worse.

Again, if Williams had any idea that the back might be trying to get involved here, this is a disastrous set.

This is actually a decent job by the Bengals offensive line. It's the running back's (Joe Mixon, 28) man that forces the fumble and the offensive line provides a nice pocket for Burrow to step up into. Williams (73) gets beat a little bit late, but that's mainly because Burrow is about 4 yards closer to the line of scrimmage than the tackle thought he would be.

And we're back to Jonah Williams (73) struggling at left tackle. Remember in the first GIF how I mentioned him dropping his head when he punches? Well, he does it again here and it goes just as poorly. Dropping your head at contact is a really bad habit, not just because you can't see, but because it throws you off balance and makes changing direction really difficult. Here, when he drops his helmet to absorb the impact, the rusher (Jacob Phillips, 50) knocks his hands down and Williams doesn't get anything but air.

Just as concerning as his upper body, though, are Williams' feet. Look at how he does a little bunny hop back right before contact, or right before contact should have happened if he had made any. That's someone that's worried about not being able to stand up to a bullrush and is bracing for it early. He looks like a hitter guessing fastball before the pitcher even releases the ball. You never want to lean into a bullrush anyways, you want to sink your hips and arch your back into the bullrush. This is an ugly rep of pass protection.

This is another sack that looks like it's on Williams (73), but this is really just the defense calling up the right stunt at the right time. The Bengals are in half slide protection, where the left side is man-to-man and the center (Ted Karras, 64) and right side are sliding to the right. The Browns are running a Pirate stunt with two penetrators and a looper. It's really difficult, though not impossible, to pass this stunt off when the penetrators are coming from the man side and the looper is coming from the zone side.

The only way you can hope to pass it off is if your left tackle and left guard (Cordell Volson, 67) really flatten out their rushers right down the line of scrimmage. If either defender gets any penetration at all, then the center won't be able to knock the guard back to the defensive end, and the guard won't be able to knock the offensive tackle off to the looper. Williams and left guard Volson do not totally flatten either guy, so they never had a chance.

But again, this is more of an example of rock beats scissors than anything else. If the Bengals had the exact same play but with the man side being to the right and the slide side being to the left, Cincy would have been in a great position to pick this stunt up. Sometimes you just get unlucky and you hope the quarterback can throw it before the looper has a chance to come around.

This is the last drive of the game, when the outcome was already decided, but this would be the play that made my blood boil if I were a Bengals fan. Cincy is trying to run a screen, but two out of their five offensive linemen don't get in the way enough for Burrow to even get that off. I don't want to say they quit here, but if a team wasn't giving 100% effort towards the end of the blowout, this is what it would look like.

Let's start with Williams (73) again since he makes the same mistakes he has already made. He turns his hips too far towards the goal line way too quickly. He's opening the gate for the rusher to run right through. That's always a recipe for disaster, but it's even worse on a screen where the quarterback should get more depth to invite the defense further upfield. La'el Collins (71) at right tackle isn't much better, and he really wasn't much better than Williams in the game. It's just that when Collins got beat, he gave up pressures, not sacks. You can't get beat outside like this on a screen. Make the defender bullrush through you or beat you inside. That's stuff they teach you in high school.

Right guard Alex Cappa (65) is also bad here. As a guard you have to hold up an interior rusher somewhat before you release on a screen. You have to stop the rusher's initial charge or at least knock him off his path a little. It looks worse for Cappa because both offensive tackles get beat so badly up the field that Burrow can't retreat in the pocket. Still, Cappa doesn't hold the defender up for nearly long enough before releasing. This is such a bad football play for Cincinnati, and a fitting way to end the column.


12 comments, Last at 05 Nov 2022, 1:02pm

#1 by theslothook // Nov 04, 2022 - 10:34am

I don't know what you do as a play caller when your line failing this badly from jump. We may have to just write off this season for Burrow.

Points: 0

#2 by Johnny Ocean // Nov 04, 2022 - 10:35am

You have to question the strategy of the off-season wholesale replacement of the offensive line for any elite NFL team.  Andy Reid did it with some success and perhaps this drove Cincy to give it a try.  Cincy's experiment has produced an OL that stands up well to undersized and less talented defensive fronts but wilts against better units.  Losing Chase just makes it worse because the QB is so dependent on him.  They looked terrible this week but they have a pretty easy schedule coming up so maybe they can survive until they sort out their problems and Chase returns.

Points: 0

#4 by Aaron Brooks G… // Nov 04, 2022 - 10:41am

This is still better than their line was the prior two years.

Points: 0

#6 by theslothook // Nov 04, 2022 - 12:38pm

The unit was bad last year and they tried to fix it. I think you can applaud the process even if the execution failed.  Sometimes, the acquisitions don't work the way you hoped they would.

Idk why, but it reminds me of the 2004 Vikings - the last season they had Moss where the defense was putrid and posted the 29th ranked pass DVOA. The next offseason, they tried to fix the pass defense by bringing in Darren Sharper and notable high priced free agent Fred Smoot along with drafting Erasmus James at pass rusher. The moves kind of worked but not really; they improved to 20th in pass Defense though improvement was expected given how awful the year prior was. Sharper made the probowl that year because of 9 picks, but charting wasn't there so who knows how good he was in coverage and Smoot was a complete disaster. I learned a valuable lesson about the shaky promises of high priced free agents.

Points: 0

#3 by Aaron Brooks G… // Nov 04, 2022 - 10:39am

Other than that Ms. Lincoln, how was the play?

Points: 0

#5 by BigRichie // Nov 04, 2022 - 11:54am

5th and final sack, looks to me like Ben has it wrong. The running back receiver cuts behind rather than in front of the defensive tackle being blocked, which taking 2 extra steps gives the pass rushers also those 2 extra steps. No. Chance. What. So. Ever.

Burrow also should've backpedaled another step or two, it being a screen. Not that it'll help anywhere near enough when the receiver runs the wrong route on a friggin' SCREEN pass!

Points: 0

#7 by Raiderfan // Nov 04, 2022 - 12:50pm

And a sad state of affairs for the Bengals.

Points: 0

#8 by alex.michel // Nov 04, 2022 - 2:48pm

Their other problem is that Joe Mixon is terrible.  Even after adjusting for the offensive line, he is performing horribly this year.  

Points: 0

#9 by Paul R // Nov 04, 2022 - 6:38pm

Hey, Ben, (or whoever wants to answer), what are some tips for evaluating the center when watching a game? I always find myself focusing on the guards and tackles and forgetting to watch the center. Does the center typically have special duties that a G or T doesn't have?  

In the GIFs above, Ted Karras appears to me to be pretty blameless, but I don't know enough to tell. In the second GIF, he pauses for a second and it looks like he's making sure the back will pick up the blitzer, then he gives double-team help to the guard. Is that a mistake, or is he doing his job properly?  


Points: 0

#10 by BigRichie // Nov 04, 2022 - 8:52pm

Ben's written often about the importance of centers making the correct line call/adjustment. But I can't remember him calling out a 'wrong call' in one of these videos. Perhaps no way of knowing who made the line adjustment, QB or center??

Does look ugly in that second video tho'. I sure wouldn't want to assign any running back to an onrushing interior linebacker who's anticipated the snap count. Does the O-line most always slide left or right on pass pro? Sliding the center away from such a blitzer in order to help out elsewhere while leaving it to the running back, man, I don't like that idea at all.

Points: 0

#12 by Theo // Nov 05, 2022 - 1:02pm

In my limited experience playing the occasional down as a RB, first thing I was told to scan inside -> out. First look for blitz up the middle (first to the qb) then outside. And then the blocking call would determine if that outside was on the left or the right... Or both. 

This could be different per offensive scheme, game plan, play call and defense faced. 

We were down to a dlineman playing tackle one time and I just auto-shifted there to help out. 

Points: 0

#11 by BigRichie // Nov 04, 2022 - 8:55pm

As to "Ben (or whoever wants to answer)", you'll be hoping for a 'whoever'. Whatever his many other virtues, I don't ever recall Ben interacting with these threads.

Points: 0

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