September 3, 2014

Position Review: Offensive Line

OK, now we get into the heart of where the Bengals need to work on offense. If they do not improve on the O-line, the success of any additions/changes at running back and wide receiver will be limited.

For the last three seasons, the coaches have been telling us that they are going to run, run, run the ball, because they have to be able to run in the AFC North. But that was a problem in 2011 because the Bengals O-line sucks as a run blocking unit. Mediocre running by Cedric Benson didn’t help either.

FootballOutsiders.com paints a clear picture of the mediocrity of the O-line’s run blocking this season. They ranked 20th overall, behind teams like Arizona, Miami and Seattle. They ranked 25th in power success (keeping an extra lineman in). And they were 5th in getting runs stuffed. Stuffed crust is great. Stuffed runs are not.

The Bengals faced several of the top run defenses in the league this year. But they were as ineffective against the bad teams as they were the good ones. Cleveland was the only bad run defense that they took advantage of. But if you need something good to point to, they were pretty good at pass blocking, ranking #4 with only 25 sacks. 1.6 sacks/game. Can’t bash on that at all.

The Bengals keep 9 offensive linemen. Several of these guys are free agents this year, so there is plenty of opportunity to overhaul and improve the line for 2012.

LT Andrew Whitworth: 16 games.

Like many, I’ve given Whit some love over the past couple of years. So I was a bit surprised when I learned that he was rated -7.8 in run blocking by PFF. His first job is pass protection, but with as often as the Bengals run left, and as much as he is getting paid, he has to be better than that.

LG Nate Livings: 16 games.

Despite being vehemently defended by Paul Alexander in the offseason, Livings earned a -10.5 rating this year. In a contract year, he put up numbers proving that he is what we thought he was. Hey Paul, take your Mike Goff comparisons and shove ‘em anywhere you like. If you don’t send Livings packing, you will only prove that you need to be sent out the door with him.

C Kyle Cook: 16 games.

Despite being an undrafted CFA, Cook has turned into a solid player, enough that the Bengals gave him a 4-year extension at the beginning of the season. He is a good communicator over the ball and is a solid run blocker (+9.3).

RG Bobbie Williams: 9 games.

Bobbie was the only other regular starter to post a positive grade (+1.9) from PFF. But that number is not as good as we are used to getting from Bobbie. Age may be catching up with him. He is a free agent this year.

RT Andre Smith: 14 games.

While Andre still has plenty of room to grow (in skill, not waistline please), his -4.4 run blocking grade is an improvement over his first two years in the league when he was pretty awful. But the Bengals have to get better play out of their run blocking tackle. He is going into the final year of his rookie deal.

T Anthony Collins: 7 games.

The way Collins has been used is almost as big of a travesty as how Evan Mathis was used here. Collins has played at a good to very good level when given the chance. Yet the Bengals refuse to consider him as a starter.

Our buddy Nate has made the case for at least two years that the Bengals need to move Smith to RG and start Collins at RT. And Collins’ +4.3 grade (compared to Smith’s -4.4) proves that he is right. Unfortunately, that won’t happen. As a free agent, Collins will leave in search of a starting job, and he will be a quality starter for another team for several years. I hope that team is not in the AFC North.

T Dennis Roland: 16 games.

While Roland appeared in every game this season, he took 100 fewer snaps than Collins. His main role was in power formations, but his -1.2 grade (and the line’s overall lack of power success) don’t speak well for him. He is a free agent this season.

G Mike McGlynn: 7 games.

The Bengals signed McGlynn to a one year deal for depth. He made 4 starts while Williams was out after it was clear that Boling needed more time to develop. But his -9.1 grade shows why the Eagles were willing to let him go.

G Clint Boling: 5 games.

Boling started the first 3 games of the year while Williams sat out his suspension. But the rookie struggled at times and was eventually replaced with the veteran McGlynn.

Looking to 2012

The Bengals clearly have holes to fill on the offensive line. We can pretty well guarantee that they will lose Collins, and they could lose up to five guys if they elect to not bring back any of the other free agents. That is a whole lot of turnover. Frankly, too much.

So who do they bring back? The aging Bobbie Williams? Either of a pair of fairly ineffective guards in Livings and McGlynn? Or an OK backup tackle in Roland?

The obvious answer is staring us in the face: find a way to give Collins a starting position, even if that means moving first round pick Smith to guard. But we know how that story will play out. (What do a bunch of stupid fans know, right Paul?)  The Bengals will build a practice bubble and hire a GM before that happens.

I would have no problem bringing back Williams or Roland in a backup role. Well, Roland will never be more than a backup anyway. But Bobbie would be a nice mentor and add some solid depth.

As for McGlynn and Livings… thanks for trying. Parting gifts are waiting at the door. Replacing them with either two free agents, or a free agent and a draft pick, seems like a reasonable task. Much more turnover than that in one season makes me nervous. First, let’s look at the free agent guards that are highest rated by PFF.

  • Evan Mathis (+34.6) of PHI  [Paul Alexander let him go and kept a guy who graded at -10.5!! Maybe we fans actually DO know something!!]
  • Carl Nicks (+28.4) of NO
  • Jake Scott (+13.3) of TEN
  • Chad Rinehart (+12.4) of BUF
  • Ben Grubbs (+7.3) of BAL
  • Montrae Holland (+5.9) of DAL
  • Kraig Urbek (+5.2) of BUF
  • Mackenzy Bernadeau (+3.4) of CAR
  • Kory Lichtensteiger (+2.7) of WAS

All of these players graded better than Williams, the only guard with a positive rating, so any of them would be a sizable improvement over 2011. Holland and Scott are on the older side, but not too old.

(Can you imagine what would might come through the earphone at some poor soul in the PBS front office if they had to call Evan Mathis about coming back here? That tirade would be worth the price of admission!)

Signing two of these guys, even guys toward the bottom of this list, would really open up the draft possibilities in the first round. But since that would be way too smart of a thing for Mike Brown to do, we must look at who might be there at #17 and #21 to address the desperately needed upgrades at guard.

The top names on most boards are Stanford product David DeCastro and Georgia lineman Cordy Glenn. Glenn outweighs DeCastro by nearly 40 lbs, and the Bengals have an affinity for guys coming out of Georgia. At this stage, my guess is that they will wait and try to grab Glenn in the second round.

If they try that, I would not be at all surprised that they miss him and are left to choose from the next tier of guards. Guys like Kelechi Osemele (Iowa State), Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin) and Ryan Miller (Colorado). I’m not saying that these guys are bad. But with the importance of making a solid upgrade at guard, I want the best guy I can get.

And if you can’t tell, it still pisses me off that the very best guy they could have had played in Philadelphia last year. If someone didn’t have his head up his sphincter last season, this position wouldn’t be such a big need this season. And the running game would have been a lot more successful in 2011 too.

Comments

  1. Juniversal says:

    Great piece man. I hope the front office adequately addresses the O-line and doesn’t once again settle for over the hill or mediocre talent. If I could communicate something to them it would not to underestimate the importance of a good O-line.

    It’s no coincidence we went to the superbowl twice in the 80′s when the line (with Anthony Munoz and crew) and run game was great (and the run game was great as a consequence of the great O-line). I just have my fingers crossed for a good draft and quality FA acquisitions.