The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line had an impressive season.
They were part of a running game that generated 2,147 yards rushing and averaged 4.4 yards/rush. Both were (and are) tops during Marvin Lewis' reign -- in fact the yards are most in a single-season since 2000 (2,301 yards). In addition, you have to travel back nearly 20 years to 1997 to find a season where the Bengals generated more than 19 rushing touchdowns.
This same offensive line only allowed 23 quarterbacks. That ranked third-fewest in the NFL and third-best in franchise history -- chasing 2007 (17 sacks allowed) and 2005 (21 sacks allowed). Yes... generally speaking Hue Jackson's offensive philosophy required quick drops, two reads and then a scramble, lessening the probability of taking a quarterback sack.
1) Andrew Whitworth is reaching mythical levels
Not being named to the pro bowl is a shocking reminder of how much a joke that the pro bowl really is. People that deserve it are held hostage to players with instant name recognition. It's like free agency where a well-known name is available that leads to demands that this player is signed... and anger towards a franchise that doesn't sign an over-the-hill name that costs more than his AARP dues.
Whitworth notably didn't allow a quarterback sack this year and only nine pressures. His performance led to a second-team mention on the AP all-pro team and a spot on the PFWA all-AFC team. Whitworth secured the second-best overall Pro Football Focus (+36.8) with the top pass protection grade (+22.8) among all offensive tackles in the NFL.
Whitworth is entering the final year of his existing contract.
2) Kevin Zeitler is going to be a household name soon
A solid rookie campaign, followed by a sophomore slump, Kevin Zeitler submitted his best season in 2014 despite missing four games with an injury -- missed three games early with a calf injury then missed a fourth (against Jacksonville) with another.
For as strong as Whitworth was this year, Zeitler followed a similar model only allowing one sack and eight disruptions. Pro Football Focus rated Zeitler as the fifth-best right guard in the NFL and ninth-best overall.
Like Whitworth, Zeitler is entering the final year under contract.
3) Russell Bodine had good moments but needs to get much better
Selected in the fourth-round of the 2014 NFL draft out of North Carolina, Russell Bodine was equal parts good and bad. Some are logically hanging their hat on Bodine being the future while others question that perspective... justifiably so. Bodine struggled against the AFC North and any team featuring big bodied behemoths at nose tackle.
Bodine's Pro Football Focus score ranked 33rd out of 41 qualified centers with negative scores in pass protection and run blocking.
Bodine is a rookie -- that excuse is granted overall acceptance. However Cincinnati's propensity to stick up-and-down centers is insanely disturbing. Unless the second-year center takes a significant leap in 2015, the Bengals continue their search for their Richie Braham replacement.
4) Re-sign Clint Boling
Obvious. We talked about that here.
5) Questions at right tackle
Naturally the opinion is that Andre Smith will come back in 2015, re-claiming his spot as the team's starting right tackle. There are questions that remain here:
5a) Is Andre Smith declining?
Even before his injury, Smith was struggling allowing four quarterback sacks through four games and a poor -1.9 run blocking score. Everyone struggles. We could claim this year as his struggle or scratch our head that he's on the decent.
5b) Should the Bengals prepare for post-Smith existence?
In addition to asking if he's declining, Smith is entering the final year of his contract in 2015. What next?
5c) Eric Winston would be a good backup option.
Marshall Newhouse struggled as the team's backup right tackle... to the point that Clint Boling replaced him while the newly-signed Eric Winston readied an eventuality of starting there in the season's final games. Keep Winston around?