Questions Remain on Bengals Offensive Line

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

NFL Wild Card - The Cincinnati Bengals got out to a comfortable lead against an injury-depleted Baltimore Ravens team last weekend and never looked back. Cincinnati went up 24-7 at the half and cruised to a 27-6 win. The game really wasn't that interesting—it featured 44 pass attempts from Anthony Brown, after all—but that doesn't mean there's nothing to review.

Really, I'm sure the big concern for Bengals fans going into the postseason is if their offensive line is going to hold up in protection. After all, they had a great run in last year's playoffs where they made the Super Bowl despite some shaky performances up front. However, in the big game they fell a little short, largely because they couldn't block Von Miller and Aaron Donald. Despite largely retooling their offensive line in the offseason, I'm not sure if they're much better equipped to hold up against the league's best pass-rushers.

Jonah Williams is a former first-round draft pick and a holdover from last year's offensive line. He has played a lot in Cincy but has never quite found the footing to match his high draft position. He has had some really rough games this year, and while Sunday wasn't one of them, he hasn't played well enough down the stretch to alleviate any concerns from Bengals fans.

The big issue with Williams is that he lacks top-flight athleticism for a left tackle who was at one point a first-round pick. When he gets beat, it usually looks like it's because he's very stiff. Look at the play below. His initial set looks fine, but when he has to redirect inside, it looks slow and awkward. His feet get stuck in the ground for a second and he allows the defender to almost topple him over. Williams (73) ends up stumbling backwards like Frankenstein's Monster frightened by a torch, and he never really recovers.

Williams may be my biggest concern, but really, while the offensive line has improved from last year, I'm not sure there's a single guy up front that I feel confident about not having a stinker at the worst time. It's not all about sacks, either; Joe Burrow has gotten pretty good at moving around in chaos and getting rid of the ball. It's about allowing Burrow an opportunity to use what may be the best group of receivers in the league.

Two things are true on this next play. First, the pass protection isn't awful. Second, it probably cost Cincinnati a touchdown. Center Ted Karras ends up in a tough position here. He probably assumes that he's mainly going to be helping the right guard and will get some help from him at worst. But because of where the defensive tackle (Justin Madubuike, 92) rushes, not only is Karras the primary blocker, but he doesn't get any help from either of his guards so he ends up 1-on-1.

It's not the easiest block in the world without any help, but even centers occasionally have to block someone by themselves. Karras just gets too high here and can't re-anchor when the defensive tackle turns up the field to bullrush. Again, it's not awful pass protection in that he stays engaged and keeps himself between his man and the quarterback. But he gets pushed back enough that Burrow can't really step into the throw and leaves it short. That allows the defensive backs to break up what would have been a touchdown with a better throw. I have included the wide angle so you could see exactly what I'm talking about.


Alex Cappa left the game against Baltimore and it's looking like he'll be out for at least the wild-card round. For a team that already lost its starting right tackle in December, it's just another hole to plug. The one positive is that it's not like Alex Cappa has been Randall McDaniel this year.

On this next play, the Bengals struggled to pick up the blitz and Cappa (65) goes 0-for-2 in trying to block anyone. First, he needs to get more of that defensive tackle (Calais Campbell, 93). He's just kind of feeling with his hands, which is fine if you're uncovered, but if you have a 3-technique that's crossfacing you into your center's gap, you have to take some steam off of him with a real punch. Yes, the defensive tackle belongs to Karras, and Karras has to find a way to block him, but he's probably expecting a little help.

The fact that Cappa didn't really help his center at all makes it that much worse that he's late getting out to the blitzing defensive back (Marcus Peters, 24). If you're not going to give your teammate decent help, you sure as hell better be all over your assignment. But Cappa false-steps when he sees the blitzer and steps underneath himself rather than continuing to kick out towards the defensive back. Luckily Burrow avoided a lot of clutter to make a nice throw for a first down.

Like I said earlier in the column, it was kind of an anticlimactic game. The Bengals got out to that huge lead and ineffectively ran the ball to kill the clock in the second half when it was clear Anthony Brown wasn't coming back from down big. Still, there were enough pass protection issues to bring up bad memories for Bengals fans heading into the playoffs.

Playoff Preview

Before we go, I do want to address the Eagles and the Bucs since this is the first time in Word of Muth history that all three teams that I covered have made the playoffs.

I'm really curious about what Tampa Bay does against Dallas this week. I covered the Bucs-Cowboys game in Week 1 and Tampa Bay ran all over the Cowboys, but it was primarily because Dallas had just awful run fits. In the time since, Tampa Bay has shown they really struggle to run it consistently and Dallas' defense has been much better. I would be very surprised if the Bucs have anywhere near the success they had on the ground vs. Dallas again. Also, I think Tampa Bay's interior offensive line, in particular center or left guard, is going to be responsible for a negative play that could change the outcome.

Philadelphia is off this week after securing the NFC's first seed, and I have to say they certainly earned the bye. Their offensive line has been easily the best I covered this year and probably as good as any I have watched since I started this column. My only concern with them is if Lane Johnson isn't 100% or if Jordan Mailata plays against a real explosive edge with a great dip move (like Micah Parsons). But if Philly is healthy up front and Jalen Hurts doesn't run into sacks, I don't think anyone is going to be pointing fingers at the offensive line as the reason why the Eagles get eliminated.


3 comments, Last at 13 Jan 2023, 8:07am

#1 by Tundrapaddy // Jan 12, 2023 - 6:20pm

"Williams (73) ends up stumbling backwards like Frankenstein's Monster frightened by a torch, and he never really recovers."

You might be on to something, Ben. If you look at Williams' first few steps in that gif after the ball is snapped, it kinda looks like he's tapping to 'Putting on the Ritz.' I'm reviewing it over and over now, imagining a top hat and cane...

Points: 2

#2 by rh1no // Jan 12, 2023 - 6:23pm

Bebgals Center Ted Karras has high praise for Alex Cappa, calling him "the singular force that drives this O-line." Rookie Left Guard Cordell Volson has credited Karras with helping him develop this year. So I think losing him and the intangibles he brought to the team will disrupt the Bengals' offensive line more than you might otherwise anticipate.

The Bengals should still put away the Ravens without too much trouble, but I think the Bills' defense -- with a little help from the home crowd -- will be too much for this patchwork offensive line.

Points: 0

#3 by Displaced Bill… // Jan 13, 2023 - 8:07am

As a Bills fan I hope you are right but without Von the Bills have not gotten consistent pressure with just their front 4 and Frazier has not called too many blitzes this season (and I think Burroughs picks apart blitzing defenses). If he has time, that Bengals O is scary good

Points: 0

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