OK, I admit, the Bengals offensive line isn't as powerful as I've claimed all season. Yes, injury is a big reason why. But that excuse only applies to mulligans in golf. We still have to play and we still have to win. But even with injury, this offensive line has been a disappointment. Eric Ghiaciuc coming in for an injured Rich Braham has given up a couple of sacks. But so have Willie Anderson, Bobbie Williams, Eric Steinbach and Levi Jones -- who's playing with a bum ankle. This bye week will benefit the banged up line more than anyone.
You could just as easily say the offensive line should have been last season's offensive MVP. Rudi Johnson broke his own single-season rushing record and Carson Palmer was rarely sacked - only 19 times.
This unit is one of the most cohesive units in the league. Rich Braham, Steinbach, Anderson, Jones and Williams have been the starters since 2004. They've played together in 24 games -- from 2004 to this bye week -- and have had only one starter miss in 12 games. In games where all five offensive linemen start, the Bengals are 17-7. In games which one starter is out, the Bengals are 5-7; Anderson and Williams are the only starters not to miss a start. The cohesiveness could be threatened after this season; Rich Braham and Eric Steinbach are the only starters not signed after this season.
We haven't hasn't experienced the glorified offensive line play like previous seasons. So far this season, Palmer was sacked four times against Cleveland, six times against Pittsburgh and four times against the Patriots. When Rich Braham started and played, Palmer was only sacked once. I hate to point the finger at Ghiaciuc because all of the offensive linemen have given up sacks. But since he's come in and played, Palmer has been sacked 14 times.
The popular opinion is to take Eric Steinbach and place him at center and put rookie Andrew Whitworth at guard. I disagree with this. For one, the highly effective "Power O" requires the small guard (i.e. Steinbach) to pull -- Whitworth's slower speed would cause the play to develop slower. If you take a pro-bowl alternate away from his natural position, you degrade it by installing a rookie. I'm not taking anything away from Whitworth; but Steinbach is the better guard.
But the interesting question is, would the Steinbach/Whitworth combination be better than the Ghiaciuc/Steinbach combination? Marvin Lewis admitted after New England that they will look into fixing the offensive line woes. Whether he's referring to mixing up the starters or just blowing smoke up everyone's you know what, is debatable.
What isn't debatable is the 15 total sacks this season and three lost fumbles in the last two games.
This offensive line must improve or the Bengals will go nowhere this season. Palmer can only take so many hits and the team can only lose so many fumbles. With high-profile defenses like Tampa Bay, Carolina, Atlanta, Baltimore and San Diego on the horizon, it's critical the offensive line improve or risk missing the playoffs. Injury is a good excuse if you want to use it. But that doesn't mean a single thing if the team misses the playoffs. Guys have to step up and gut it out. And it has to start now.