Against the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, Bengals offensive tackle Anthony Collins was active on gameday but didn't play in week one. He played some on special teams against the Ravens in week two, but in neither game did Collins play an offensive snap. Against the Carolina Panthers, Collins played one offensive snap in goalline situation, then he was listed as a gameday inactive the following five weeks from October 3 against the Browns through November 8 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Collins finally got his break when Andre Smith went on IR after fracturing his fifth metatarsal (don't you love puns?) during practice in the week leading up to the Indianapolis Colts on November 14. Since then he's rotated with Dennis Roland at right tackle.
Collins' performance in the past month has him rated as the team's third best pass protector behind Bobbie Williams and Andrew Whitworth by Pro Football Focus -- graded far better than Roland or Smith. In 2009, Collins was rated as the team's fourth best offensive lineman by PFF behind Williams, Whitworth and Evan Mathis, who for some reason has been completely shut down this season thanks to questionable personnel decision-making. Pro Football Focus rates Livings as the team's third-worst graded offensive lineman, with Roland and Smith graded worse.
Geoff Hobson reminds readers that Collins made his NFL debut two years ago "at left tackle in relief of the injured Levi Jones and Andrew Whitworth" against the Pittsburgh Steelers. On November 18 2008, I wrote:
If there's ever a scenario that exists out there, such as making your first start against one of the league's best defensive players, Thursday night would define it. With 12 sacks this season, Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison will be salivating at the thought of pushing a rookie tackle around, making his first NFL start if neither Levi Jones or Andrew Whitworth can heal significantly enough through Thursday afternoon.
The Steelers only recorded one quarterback sack and we wrote afterward:
The Bengals love what they're seeing with Anthony Collins and Nate Livings. Admittedly, I think there's been more stability with this collection of linemen as we've seen all season.
And that turned out to be true. Since losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 20, 2008, when Collins made his first start, the Bengals would finish the season 3-2 with three of the top four rushing performances during the season coming in the final three games of the season.
Collins nearly lost his starting job at right tackle when the Bengals drafted Andre Smith. However, thanks to Smith being Smith, Collins started the first five games before losing the starting job to Dennis Roland, for the simple fact Roland is a "monster" in rush blocking; the best we can do is argue that he's not as big a liability run blocking as he is pass blocking.
Collins would make his final start during the 2009 against the Baltimore Ravens on November 8. Since then, the Bengals have gone 6-15 (including the playoffs) with Collins only making one more start against the Colts on November 14. We're not saying that the Bengals have suddenly crashed losing nine of their previous 15 games because Anthony Collins isn't featured on the offensive line. We're pretty sure it's coincidence.
Collins played in half of the team's snaps against the New York Jets and only 20 of 70 offensive snaps against the New Orleans Saints. And now, as Hobson writes, he's back to proving himself again.
“Two years ago I went against (James) Harrison and last year it was Woodley and they’re two of the best,” he said. “I’m trying to finish off these last four games to prove myself.”
If the story of 2010 is written with the same plot elements like 2008, then the Bengals will finally put Collins in as the team's starting right tackle and win more games than they lose. All starting with the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend.