While the Bengals are enjoying a franchise-best 7-0 start, there have been some issues thus far that must be addressed if this team is to achieve its ultimate goal.
It's really concerning how badly Andre Smith has played at times this year, given how good he's shown he can be in the past. He's been repeatedly beaten in pass protection and committed several egregious penalties that have killed drives this season. He is the second-worst rated Bengals offensive lineman behind Russell Bodine (we'll get to him) on Pro Football Focus, and he's become as much of a liability as Bodine is.
On Sunday against the Steelers, that was again the case as Smith made several critical mistakes that killed opportunities for the Bengals. He was flagged for three penalties, a false start, a hold and an illegal peelback block. The latter two came on the same drive that began at the Pittsburgh 33-yard line and ended at the 50-yard line after those two penalties killed the drive. He also had a holding penalty that was declined after the Steelers got a sack on Andy Dalton, though Smith's man had a clear shot at Dalton had he not held him.
Smith has had an up-and-down career with the Bengals that has featured a lot more down since he signed a three-year, $16-million extension back in 2013. His PFF rating has dropped every season since then and he's now on pace for his worst grade of his seven-year career at the rate he's going this season.
This is one example from Sunday when Smith got poor leverage and dove at Bud Dupree to keep him from getting to Dalton:
This is not a way any lineman should ever look like in pass protection:
Had Dupree rushed just a little more to the inside, he may have ended up with a clean shot on Dalton.
Smith managed to come out of Sunday without allowing a sack, but his 12 quarterback hurries allowed this season are tied with Bodine for the most allowed of any Bengals lineman. Making manners worse, the Bengals run a quick passing game that should make it easier to avoid even allowing pressures, but Smith is giving them up at an alarming rate this season.
Smith's day ended on the Bengals' third-to-last drive of the game. When Dalton's red-zone interception was being returned by Antwon Blake, Smith tried to make the tackle and was clipped in the head by Tyler Eifert's knee. He was later evaluated for a hit to the head, and was diagnosed with a concussion. Hopefully it's not too serious, but Smith still has to clean up his game when he returns to the lineup; that's not likely to be Thursday against the Browns.
The real issue Sunday and many times this season was Bodine. He was simply whipped by Steelers lineman Cameron Heyward and other Steelers who blitzed in his gap. Even when Bodine did a good job of squaring up his man and engaging him with good technique, Heyward would simply push him right back into Dalton as he'd complete his dropback.
Here's another example of that:
But nothing Bodine has done this season was more egregious than his botched snap in the second quarter of Sunday's game that cost the Bengals a chance to at least take a 9-7 lead into halftime. It was a simple 3rd-and-1 play in which the Bengals were going to sneak it with Dalton, but Bodine fired the snap wide and thankfully Giovani Bernard was there to fall on it before the Steelers picked it up and ran it back for six.
Erratic snaps were a problem for Bodine in training camp, but he's managed to keep them to a minimum in the regular season, but this simply cannot happen in the NFL. These kinds of mistakes nearly cost the Bengals a win over the Steelers, and it will definitely cost them against better teams like the Broncos if errors like this continue.