Grading The Trenches: Offensive Line Week 1

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 11: Starting quarterback Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals calls a play from the line of scrimmage during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns in the season opener at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

This will be a weekly segment where we look back at every snap from the big guys in the trenches and hand out grades for each individual play. We decided to only grade the offensive and defensive lineman because it’s much harder to get a feel for their play. There are no stats to tell you how Andre Smith looked last week or how well Pat Sims defended the run. We tried this in the pre-season and the Cincyjungle community responded positively. If you have any suggestions on how to improve our system or any inquiries on a specific player or stat, feel free to ask in the comments sections.  

While it was easy to see how well the offensive line played as an entire unit, there were a few things that stood out to us. First, the things we knew.

 

Andrew Whitworth is really good. We knew this. He ended up with 20 positive snaps and only three negative snaps all game. He was the leader in both of these categories on the Bengals offensive line. Whitworth was matched up against a rookie DE from the Browns, so we expected a great day. His three negative snaps came as a run blocker. We knew he isn’t the most agile player; so watching him miss blocks in open space wasn’t a surprise. Flawless in pass protection, even though two Browns players got sacks on Dalton who were originally blocked by Whitworth. We graded them as coverage sacks because the QB had more than 2.5 seconds to throw on each play.

Kyle Cook was exactly what we expected. He has the least amount of positive snaps (10) but only had six negative snaps. He was consistent all game and graded with a +1.0 in the run game and +1.5 pass a pass protector. Most of the game, Cook was helping the youngster Clint Boling out with Phil Taylor and it was the only time Taylor could be neutralized. Cook had a very good mental game. I saw him communicating, sliding the protections, and most of the blitzes were picked up. 

Andre Smith had a solid day and is an upgrade over what this team had last year at RT. He ended the game with a +3.5 total grade and was great as a pass blocker, even if it was against a much weaker opponent. He flashed his Andrew Whitworth type of potential by recording 15 positive snaps, but also showed his inexperience by having eight negative snaps. He needs to have better vision for finding guys to block in the 2nd level and try not to get beat inside as a pass protector. He doesn’t have great feet, so if the DE/OLB makes a move inside, he struggled to recover. It’s something to watch this week vs. Von Miller.

The surprises? Nate Livings was absolutely tremendous and Clint Boling will have nightmares about Phil Taylor.

Nate Livings, for all of the hate he’s received from us (I’m guilty), Livings was amazing against the Browns. He didn’t have one bad pass protection snap and had a +2.5 grade in the run game. Livings, who is known for having the big negative play that stands out in our minds, only had five negative snaps all game. He started the game with five positive run blocking snaps out of a possible six. The Bengals ran to the left all game and it’s easy to see why with the way Whitworth and Livings were moving guys. You can tell the Bengals trust Livings more now as they slid protections to help guys like Boling and Smith, while leaving Nate to block plays one-on-one. That’s when he’s at his best, when he can lock up with a guy and do his best to block him. When you ask Livings to get to the 2nd level and find a LB or pick up a stunting defender or blitzer, he doesn’t play with the same effectiveness. Hopefully Jay Gruden has seen this in pre-season and practice and we don’t have to worry about Livings again. If he continues to play like he did against the Browns, Livings wont have to worry about his starting job.

Clint Boling has received my praises throughout pre-season, but he didn’t have a good game on Sunday. If we want to defend Boling, we can say that it was his first NFL game and he was going against a player who looks like he will give the Bengals problems for the next 8-10 years in rookie Phil Taylor. What Sunday showed us is that Clint Boling has the ability to start and help this team (12 Positive snaps), but he needs to play with better strength (-2.0 Run Blocking) and consistency (13 Negative snaps). Boling was the only player on the Bengals line to end up with a negative grade for the game with –1.0. To be positive, Clint ended the game with nine positive pass blocking plays and only six negative pass snaps.

 

What to watch for against the Broncos

* Keep an eye on Andre Smith vs. Von Miller. If Smith gets to deep in his drop, Miller will cut inside and have a clear shot at Dalton without Smith being able to recover.

* Watch Clint Boling vs. Broderick Bunkley. Bunkley is a very good run defender for Denver and Boling couldn’t find a way to get anything going as run blocker last week.

* We should focus on Nate Livings for a few plays. See if you can tell the different ways they’re using him this year instead of season’s past. He’s pulling more and being relied on more in solo pass blocking. Both suit his strengths more.

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