According to Football Outsiders, the offensive line's 4.06 adjusted line yards ranked 16th in the league. That's about as average as you can get. Additionally, the offensive line ranked 28th on power success; conversions for either a first down or touchdown on third or fourth down with two yards or less to go. Lastly, Bengals running backs were tackled at or before the line of scrimmage during 22% of their runs (ranked 25th). In short, when the Bengals needed to get a first down or touchdown on third (or fourth) and short, they failed more than 27 other NFL teams.
The difference from this year and last year? Last year the Bengals converted 79% of their power rushes, which ranked first in the NFL and were only stuffed at the line of scrimmage 19% of the time. It's not hard to make the connection from one good running season to mediocre follow-up campaign. Blame applies to everyone. Cedric Benson's Pro Football Focus ratings [guide to grading] dropped from 4.7 (2009) to -1.8 (2010). Benson's PFF rating ranked him 50th amongst all running backs in the NFL.
One could argue that the Bengals offensive lines are a result for the decline of the team's rushing offense. True. The Bengals sported two of the league's better run blockers in Andrew Whitworth (7.6) and Kyle Cook (7.3). On the other hand, Nate Livings, Dennis Roland, Anthony Collins and Andre Smith were rated as the team's lesser pass blockers, none generating a positive PFF rating. This was a slightly different story in 2009, where Bobbie Williams was listed as the league's best run-blocker guards and Cook, Whitworth and Evan Mathis did their own domination during rushing downs.
Or you could just go back to Bob Bratkowski. Hey. It works and most people just nod in agreement.
That being said, before the Bengals can start debating which quarterback to choose, they have to rebuild this offensive line again. It's declined since 2009 and has mostly worked despite a patch-work of undrafted free agents that stuck around with the team. Kyle Cook, Nate Livings and Dennis Roland are restricted free agents and Evan Mathis will enter free agency as unrestricted free agent. Additionally, Bobbie Williams and Anthony Collins are entering their final season under their existing contracts. The Bengals also have to make a decision whether or not to pick up the final two years on Andre Smith's contract. If not, he's a free agent after the 2012 season.
This leaves Andrew Whitworth, Reggie Stephens, Otis Hudson, Jason Shirley, Andrew Mitchell, Andrew Gardner and Kirk Chambers. Yea, those Pittsburgh Steelers defenders will be feeling headaches from those names, won't they?
The more immediate need is offensive guard. And according to Geoff Hobson, the Bengals have identified guard for this year's NFL Draft. And one of those players they're interested in is Boston College's Anthony Castonzo.
"I was talking to one offensive line coach of (an NFL) club and what really jumped out to him was the versatility," Lewis said. "To be a young guy in the NFL and to be able to play a couple of different spots right now is a good thing."
Castonzo and his 3.5 grade point average have seamlessly handled not only the transition to tackle to guard, but also the move of left to right.
"There's more close combat. You have to play much more square," Castonzo said. "You don't get to put a foot back. At tackle, if a guy starts out on the edge, you're fine. You don't even have to push him if he's going upfield, but at guard if you do that he's going to be in the face of the quarterback. You have to be square and cut him off."
While Castonzo says he likes playing in space at tackle, he also says, "I like guard. I'll play anywhere they want me." But it is the 6-7, 315-pound Carimi that reminds Alexander of Whitworth.