Football games are often won and lost in the trenches.
That helps to explain why the Cincinnati Bengals have been to the playoffs in five straight and six of the last seven seasons. While many players across the roster and at many positions have helped contribute to that, no unit has consistently done as well as the offensive line.
Led by All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals' group of big uglies has paved the way for one of the most successful periods in franchise history, while boasting one of the NFL's best teams for the last five years.
The Bengals' 52 wins and five playoff trips since 2011 put them in rare company with just four teams that have won more than 50 games and have gone to the playoffs five times in the past five years, let's call them 50 & 5 teams. The Bengals are only outdone by the New England Patriots (61 & 5), Denver Broncos (58 & 5) and Green Bay Packers (56 & 5) in terms of teams that have won at least 50 games and made five playoff trips since 2011. Those three 50 & 5 teams have also had several studs along their o-lines and fairly strong teams overall.
All of this success is why the Bengals' trench warriors often rank near the top of Pro Football Focus' offensive line rankings. That's the case again this year, though penalties kept this unit from being more highly ranked.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (7th)
Pass-blocking rank: 8th
Run-blocking rank: 9th
Penalties rank: 23rd
Stud: One of the premier left tackles in the league, Andrew Whitworth had another exceptional year. It's what he does.
Dud: The team would have hoped Russell Bodine took a step forward in year two, but it never really materialized with his play spotty, at best.
Summary: Strong at guard and left tackle, the team was only let down by the inconsistencies of Bodine and the poor performance of Andre Smith, who may have played his way out of town, given the Bengals' top two picks in the 2015 draft. Still, this is the usual top 10 finish for Paul Alexander's unit.
Looking at this unit going forward, there's reasonable concern as to how much longer the offensive line can keep playing at the high level we've been accustomed to seeing. Long-time right tackle Andre Smith has been a major part of this unit's success since 2011, but he'll be a free agent this offseason and isn't expected to be retained after the Bengals spent their first two picks on offensive tackles in last year's NFL draft.
And as good as Whit has been, he just turned 34 and will be on the final year of his deal next year. How much longer can he keep playing at the level he's been at for so long? Will Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi live up to their high draft selections? And, will Bodine stop being such a liability and live up to what the coaches think he can become?
Whatever the future may hold, there's no denying this unit has easily been one of the NFL's best for much of the past decade, and it's good to see them rightfully acknowledged consistently by organizations like PFF.