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The Players Are Capable: Why The Bengals Start The Wrong Offensive Linemen

The other mystery is Anthony Collins unable to get into the lineup with Smith shelved. In the nine games Collins has started the past two years, the Bengals have rushed for an average of 110 yards and are 7-2.
- Geoff Hobson

Dating back to when Collins was drafted by the Bengals during the 2008 NFL Draft, the Bengals have higher averages across the board compared to when Collins starts and when doesn't.

  Total Yards Passing Y Rushing Y First Downs
Games Collins Started 356.3 214.3 142 21
Games Collins Didn't Start 272.4 154.4 118.0 16.4

Furthermore, according to Pro Football Focus, Collins scored a positive grade dating back to 2009 whereas Dennis Roland and Andre Smith were graded as the worst offensive linemen in 2010. Smith allowed three quarterback sacks, three hits and 14 quarterback pressures in 288 snaps last season whereas Collins only allowed no sacks and three quarterback pressures in 261 snaps. Roland started four of the first five games in 2010 at right tackle. Smith started the next three against the Falcons, Dolphins and Steelers before he went on the shelf for the season.

Did the Bengals finally start Collins? No. They started Roland again, who allowed seven quarterback sacks in seven games started after Smith went on Injured Reserve, including seven quarterback hits and 16 quarterback pressures in 669 snaps. Collins finally started the final two games of the 2010 regular season. And one of those games was an impressive 34-20 win over the San Diego Chargers, which was the Bengals highest points output all season and largest win differential.

What the hell is going on here?

The following table shows Collins, Smith and Roland's pass protection dating back to 2009.

  Snaps Sacks QB Hits QB Press.
Anthony Collins 657 3 2 9
Andre Smith 423 3 3 15
Dennis Roland 1,460 15 10 28

Yes, Carson. We hear you. We understand. Start Collins and you'll come back. The same thing happened at left guard. Evan Mathis started seven games in 2009 and the Bengals went 6-1. Due to an injury that kept him out for the next three games, Nate Livings started the rest of the season even when Mathis returned. When Livings started, the Bengals went 4-6 (including the team's playoff loss to the New York Jets) that season and the offense largely stalled out. Then Livings started every game at left guard in 2010. The Bengals went 4-12. To recap, dating back to 2009, the Bengals are 8-20 when Livings starts at left guard.

Are we making a direct connection that the Bengals lose because of Nate Livings? No. Of course not. That would be like saying an interception in the fourth quarter is worse than a second quarter interception. What if that second quarter interception never happened and the team scored a touchdown on that possession preventing the need to throw in the first place in the fourth quarter? Not that throwing late in the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead and only four minutes left prevents the Bengals from throwing the football (Google: Tampa Bay, Bob Bratkowski, Carson Palmer, stupid)

It does make me wonder however if this team already has the players necessary to build a pretty good offensive line, if it wasn't for the mind-boggling decisions to put in the worst possible players.