Bengals Offensive Line Continues to Struggle

Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Line
Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Line
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Divisional - The Cincinnati Bengals played the Baltimore Ravens for the third time this year and second consecutive week in last Sunday's wild-card round. It wasn't pretty, but thanks to a 98-yard fumble recovery for a defensive touchdown, the Bengals held off Baltimore. The win sent them on to a divisional-round matchup with the Bills in Buffalo.

Playing a division rival for the third time in total and second time in eight days can be tough. The Bengals offense hasn't looked right against Baltimore these past two weeks. Joe Burrow's yards per attempt are down. The running game has been largely ineffective and the explosive plays in the passing game have been limited. As good as Buffalo has been, I wouldn't be surprised if the Cincy offense is a little relieved to be playing anyone else other than Baltimore.

All three Bengals that saw action at offensive tackle struggled in pass protection. Hakeem Adeniji, Jonah Williams (who left the game with a knee injury), and Jackson Carman (who replaced Williams) all gave up sacks and none of them played particularly well.

On Adeniji's sack, the third-year pro from Kansas struggled to redirect inside. Look at this play:

Adeniji (77) is at right tackle and it's clear from the very first step that the defensive end is slanting inside. Adeniji tries to come inside with the defensive end, but look at his inside foot. He picks it up three times and moves about 6 inches. He's not gaining any ground and it looks like a fundamental lack of lateral movement. Because he never closed down inside, the defender eventually gets even with his hip, and at that point Adeniji has no choice but to open his hips to try to run with the defensive end. You never want to be chasing a defensive end and looking back at your quarterback.

In my last column before the playoffs, I highlighted Williams' issues and said that he was a definite point of concern for Bengals fans. Well, he struggled again Sunday before going down with an injury. Unfortunately, his backup at left tackle, Carman, was not an improvement. Carman looked uncomfortable in space, which makes sense considering he has played primarily at guard for most of his career.

There are a couple of signs to me that Carman (79) is not comfortable playing on the edge. First, as dumb as it sounds, it's really awkward-looking that he is staring straight ahead instead of looking at the guy he's going to block. It's third-and-long. The defensive end knows you're passing and he's 98% sure that the offensive tackle is going to be involved with blocking him. Just look at the guy you're going to block, you aren't giving anything away. The other four guys up front for Cincy are all looking at who they are going to block.

Also, look at Carman's feet when he goes to punch. He steps into his punch with his outside foot. That's a grave mistake at offensive tackle. You can't lose ground with that outside foot at the top of the rush; you have to be able to punch and continue getting depth. It makes it too easy to get beat around the edge when that outside foot dies.

Right guard Max Scharping (74) also gets beat here. Where Carman got beat because of his feet, Scharping gets beat because of his hands. He lets the defender (Odafe Oweh, 99) stab him right in the middle of the chest. That can happen when the defender throws a one-arm punch, the football saying "one arm is longer than two." So the defender should be able to land first if you're throwing a two-handed punch. If you do get stuck in the breastplate like that, you have to get that hand off of you ASAP. You can either chop down at the defender's elbow to collapse it, or you have to come from underneath and lift his arm off you. Scharping tries to lift the arm, but you can see he misses the first time. By the time he does lift the arm, he's already too deep and his defender gets in on the sack.

The previous play ended the Bengals second-to-last drive. This next play was the first play of their final drive and ended it before it could ever get started. Once again, Carman gets beat quickly and it results in a negative play, this time because of a hold.

Carman's first step is fine, but look at his feet after that. He's not gaining any ground, he's just kind of rolling over that inside foot and not driving into the block. After he's beat, he just grabs Calais Campbell (93) and gets called for the penalty. In his defense, he's not getting anything from his guard on what is supposed to be a combination block. Cordell Volson (67) barely gets a hand on Campbell before going to the second level. You have to give your tackle something to take the edge off of that 3-technique.

The Bengals' leaky pass protection is going to get most of the focus because they have a franchise quarterback and a really strong group of receivers. But the run blocking, which has been solid for most of the year, has looked shaky the past few weeks too. It wasn't one guy either; it was pretty much across the board that the Bengals offensive line struggled (with Alex Karras being the exception).

This time it was Volson, the rookie left guard, who gets beat for a tackle for no gain.

Volson's problem is that he takes six steps without ever going anywhere. He comes off the ball and pitter-patters his feet without gaining any ground, then he just kind of ducks his head and feels for a defensive tackle that's no longer there. It's not physical, it's not violent, and it's not anything you look for in the running game.

It really wasn't a very good day up front for Cincinnati, but ultimately they did enough to win. The playoffs are not the time to apologize for winning ugly. I know I have focused on the negative here today, because there was a good amount of it, but it's not like this line was an absolute sieve. The linemen did give Burrow time to make some throws like the one below. Adeniji gets walked back some on this play, but he holds up enough for the quarterback to step into a deep out. Everyone else for the Bengals offensive line is really good.

With the receivers the Bengals have, it won't take a ton of protection to create big plays. The Bengals just have to eliminate, or at least minimize, drive-killing sacks and holds to make another deep run in the playoffs.


3 comments, Last at 24 Jan 2023, 7:19pm

#1 by theslothook // Jan 19, 2023 - 11:06am

The first gif highlights why the offensive line is a lot like the defensive backfield. All it takes is one person completely messing up to undo what was otherwise terrific play from everyone else. And of course, it gets labeled a sack and the unit as a whole comes under fire.

I remember Mark Schlereth bristling after the negative commentary started to fall on the offensive line vs Russell Wilson this season. Now, Mark is a noted Broncos fan and a former offensive linemen, so he's hardly giving an unbiased view - but still, his vitriol fuled rant at Wilson came with at least one interesting insight. Even after a pristine day at the office, at best the winning QB will give a quick shout out to the unit as a whole and then they are never mentioned ever again.

Points: 0

#3 by rh1no // Jan 19, 2023 - 2:25pm

I love reading articles about the Bengals' offensive line, and Football Outsiders has written up two of the best articles on the subject.

Simply improving from "historically terrible" to "competent" along the offensive line has taken the Bengals from 10-7 to 12-4 and allowed them to play what is probably the best season of football in franchise history. Now injuries are moving us back to "historically terrible" territory and threatening to kill our playoff run.

Carman and Adeniji have both logged a Super Bowl appearance and a full season of sitting behind more experienced vets, and yet they are still struggling with basic concepts like foot and hand placement; that has to be a failure of our coaches as well as the players themselves. We will need them to show a sharp improvement -- or we'll need Burrow to put on another heroic, against-all-odds performance -- to get past Buffalo this week.

More realistically, we will come up short and will have to go back to the draft and free agency to build up this unit. God help the rest of the AFC if we ever get some elite linemen protecting Joe Cool.

Points: 0

#5 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 24, 2023 - 7:19pm

And yet the Bengals can beat the Bills too. Just more proof that you just can't have the worst OL group to have success, average and you can cook with a plethora of playmakers. 

Jamarr is a game changer, 2/2 for making the CCG>Sewell is good but, 0/2 for making the playoffs. Fantastic process with that pick. 

Points: 0

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