The 2012 Bengals finished with an impressive 10-6 record and earned a playoff berth as the AFC's No. 6 seed. The defense had another great season while the offense lagged behind, but big plays were mostly made when they were needed -- otherwise the Bengals wouldn't have made it to 10-6 without any offensive help. At the heart of that offense was the Bengals offensive line.
The Bengals line, composed of Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, Clint Boling at left guard, a mix of Kyle Cook, Trevor Robinson and Jeff Faine at center, Kevin Zeitler at right guard and Andre Smith at right tackle. Other players like Dennis Roland and Anthony Collins factored, but this was the meat of the offensive line's presence. Let's move left to right and break down each position.
Left Tackle: Andrew Whitworth
Whitworth once again showed Bengals fans the quality of a good pass-blocking left tackle. When it comes to protecting a quarterback's blind side, he's one of the best in the league, giving up five sacks this year. He finished with a Pro Football Focus pass blocking grade of 26.7. While Whitworth excels at pass protection, he struggled this year as a run blocker, scoring a run-blocking grade of -1.5, which, when combined with his pass blocking score, gives him a total score of 22.8. He was also named as the first alternate for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl.
Left Guard: Clint Boling
Perhaps the most improved player from 2011 to the 2012 season, Clint Boling did yeoman's work replacing Travelle Wharton, who was signed as a three-year replacement of the departed Nate Livings. While he struggled badly during his rookie campaign last year, eventually replaced, he started every game this year at left guard, stringing together a solid season.
Boling allowed six sacks throughout the season and, like Whitworth, was better at pass protection than run blocking. He finished with a PFF score of 4.0 in pass protection and a run blocking score of -0.9 for an overall grade of 7.0. It will be interesting to watch Boling progresses and what that means for Travelle Wharton, who was signed as a free agent before the season but was injured.
Center: Jeff Faine, Trevor Robinson, Kyle Cook
Kyle Cook was the team's incumbent center entering training camp, but an injury during the preseason held him out until the end of the season. Though Robinson replaced him against the Colts during the preseason finale, Jeff Faine was signed, starting the first seven games before suffering his own injury. Faine allowed one sack with a pass protection score of -0.4 and a run blocking score of -11.0 for an overall grade of -13.0.
Trevor Robinson, an undrafted free agent this year, was thrust into a starting role and played surprisingly well. He came off the bench in Week eight and started Week 9 to Week 15. In that time, he allowed one sack, had a pass blocking score of -3.1 and a run blocking score of 1.0 for an overall grade of -1.8.
Kyle Cook, recovered from his high-ankle injury, eventually eased himself back into the starting lineup against the Steelers and Ravens, as well as the team's wildcard game in Houston. He allowed three sacks and had a pass protection score of -2.9 and a run blocking score of -2.4 for an overall grade of -6.6.
Robinson outplayed both Cook and Faine at center despite the fact that he was an undrafted free agent rookie. However, center is by far and away the weakest position on the offensive line.
Right Guard: Kevin Zeitler
Zeitler was one of the Bengals' first round picks and started every game at right guard, quickly proving why he was taken in the first round. Though someone like Clint Boling was strong and balanced earlier this year, Zeitler excelled at both pass protection and run blocking. He gave up four sacks and earned a pass protection grade of 9.9 and had a run blocking score of 1.6. He finished the season with an overall grade of 13.3 and it looks like he's just going to get better.
Right Tackle Andre Smith
Smith has had an interesting story in Cincinnati. After a lengthy holdout his rookie year, he arrived to camp massively overweight and, as a result, broke his foot. He didn't play until the second half of the season and, when the same thing happened in his second season, fans started thinking it was time to think about options. However, Smith started turning things around in 2011, reaching the mountain-top in 2012 season with the team's highest PFF score at offensive line.
Smith allowed seven sacks this past year with a pass protection grade of 13.7. He finished with a run blocking score of 10.6, which, when combined with with his pass protection score, gives him a final grade of 29.2, which is the highest grade of any offensive lineman on the team.
The offensive line opens holes for the team's running backs and protects the quarterback, allowing him time to find a receiver down field. A good offense needs a good offensive line and while the Bengals' offensive line isn't the best in the league, it certainly isn't the worst. Improvements can be made, but for the most part, the pieces are in place. Now all that needs to be done is to make sure those pieces are coached properly and remain healthy so they can continue to improve.
Most believe that good teams start in the trenches when they're forced to rebuild. There's no questions that this is a re-built team and the re-building process on the line began a few years ago when the team decided to draft Andre Smith in the first round. Those efforts are finally starting to pay dividends and the Bengals could improve drastically as the line improves in the next couple years, especially if they continue to fill in the missing pieces and give Dalton a few more weapons to help move the ball down the field.