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The Weekly Lineman: Bengals outmatched by Cowboys starting on first drive

It was... nope it was just plain awful.

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This is from my article last week:

The Bengals play the Dallas Cowboys next week and it should be a great and even battle up front, especially between the Bengals defensive line and the Cowboys offensive line.


If anything, I’m a realist. Most things are what they are and should be taken for what they appear to be. The thing is, if the Bengals didn’t appear to be struggling up front, that would imply that there’s more to the story. In this case, it’s nothing more and nothing less than what you saw on Sunday in Dallas.

The Bengals have problems in the trenches. Plain and simple.

Ezekiel Elliott ran wild for 134 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. Elliot is a very, very good back, but his offensive line played to their usual outstanding standards against a Bengals front four that couldn’t get off blocks and even touch Elliott for the majority of the game. This was they key difference in this blowout, and Dallas’ play should be equally praised as much as Cincinnati’s play should be criticized, so let’s begin there.

Spacing and sustaining blocks

Where else to begin than the first drive, a complete tone-setter for the Cowboys’ offense. The Bengals go into nickel personnel with the Cowboys spreading them out with three wide receivers. This worked wonders when they got the ball to Elliott on the outside. His second carry of the game:

There is not a single missed block on this play, everything worked to absolute perfection for the Cowboys in the box. The misdirection at the top froze the linebackers long enough for them to be behind the pulling guards, and all three backside blocks were held for the entire time necessary for them to be taken out of the play.

Once the guards were out in space with Elliott, it’s three on four, advantage Bengals. But right guard Zack Martin (#70) does just enough to take Vontaze Burfict out of the lane, causing Rey Maualuga to run into him and taking him out as well. And left guard Ronald Leary (#65) handled Shawn Williams head on with ease.

This how you take advantage of what the defense gives you, getting your athletic line out in space against a light box. Spacing is crucial to winning up front, and this play is a great example.

The very next snap, the Bengals go back into a seven-man box and the Cowboys run the base of their playbook, the zone run:

A few things stand out here, first, when Elliott plants his foot in the ground to cut upfield, all three second level blockers are either locked into or engaged in a linebacker, freeing up Elliott as his accelerates forward.

Second, right tackle Doug Free (#68) takes a fantastic angle to cut off Geno Atkins as he makes his way to attempt a backside tackle. Free knows he can’t get his hands on him facing forward, so he boxes him out in a sense and takes him out that way.

Third, Leary was the best player on the field for this snap. By chipping Domata Peko, he made center Travis Frederick’s (#72) reach block a little easier, and immediately went up field to lock into Rey Maualuga, sustaining the block, and creating a crease for Elliott. His timing, form and awareness were all excellent here.

The only defenders to “win” their assignments are Margus Hunt and Burfict. Hunt goes with the flow of the play and meets Elliott just past the line of scrimmage, but has little chance of bringing him down with his positioning. Burfict actually does a good job of stacking Frederick and shedding his block to get Elliott, but this happens five yards downfield and he was unable to wrap his arms around Elliott to bring him down.

The underlining key for the Cowboys here was to sustain blocks long enough for Elliott to advance into the second level, and force the secondary to make a stop on the ground. Sometimes it only takes one defender to shed and disrupt the whole play, but with this Cowboys line, that hardly ever happens.

Then, on the next play after that, Elliott hit pay dirt.

Martin and Leary might as well have carried Elliott into the end zone on this play. After pushing Peko into Frederick’s reach block while his eyes are locked onto Maualuga, Martin then seals the hole he and Frederick opened in the first place, leaving Maualuga with nowhere to go but into him. Leary actually went to his knees after crossing Atkins to create a wide base and clog any gap Burfict had at getting to Elliott. Observe:

It’s just too easy against a six-man box, and anytime Elliott gets a crease up the middle, he has the controlled acceleration to blow by defenders.

The Bengals front four and linebackers were blown away physically and maybe mentally in the first four minutes of this game, because their collective efforts with the personnel they had could not match what the Cowboys had. And when you are that out-classed, there’s little adjustment you can make without leaving yourself short in other areas as well.

I suppose we might as well look at Elliot’s 60 yard touchdown run too.

Pictured above is the Bengals eight-man box before the snap against the Cowboys 12 personnel front with two tight ends. Now when they motion the far tight end across the line of scrimmage, the box decreases with George Iloka dropping back into a cover 2 look:

Next, the inline tight end that didn’t motion, Jason Witten (#82), used some veteran savvy to get Elliott some space. By putting his hand up like he was calling for the ball, this caught the attention of Bufict and Iloka and really lessened the box even more and created more space for Elliot to run through.

Elliott now has a five-man box to work with, and uses Atkins’ penetration against him, as he cuts back into the hole Atkins created with his upfield movement, and there is no one close to Elliott as he runs by everyone for six points.

The visual I have of defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s head sinking into his palms as he watches this is far too real.

All day for Dak, no time for Andy

The pass protection for these two teams were worlds apart. Dallas limited a decent unit in Cincinnati to a single sack and a handful of hurries, and Cincinnati was overwhelmed by an underwhelming front four in Dallas, allowing four sacks and many more hurries, giving Andy Dalton fits all game.

Let’s look at a good and lasting pocket:

Man that’s beautiful to watch, not for the Bengals though. The way the protection flows to the right, letting up zero push and giving Dak Prescott all day to throw is superb. Each man is creating space with their punches and anchoring against power, letting Prescott giving his man time to separate from man coverage over the middle.

Now let’s look at a poor and quickly dissolving pocket:

There’s two things to take away from this. For starters, Clint Boling got caught leaning. In an attempt to push back defensive tackle Terrell McClain, McClain stacked Boling vertically and used his inside hand to shed him to the side, forcing Dalton to abandon ship. On the other side, Cedric Ogbuehi got manhandled at the point of attack, only to be saved by right guard Kevin Zeitler’s awareness to “look for work”.

Ogbuehi didn’t have Zeitler saving him all game, and there were times where he struggled on his own, even on back to back plays in the second quarter:

Even with the same move.

You can make a good argument that Ogbuehi is one of the worst tackles in football right now, and the fact that he’s not the worst is a compliment to him, unfortunately.

Draft pundits and coaches love a player with the length and athleticism he has, but when the conversation arises of whether the player has the technical aspects and functional strength to handle NFL rushers... well, they usually show a clip of him owning a player with even less strength and technique than he has.

For the people who really watched Ogbuehi at Texas A&M, these shortcomings aren’t very surprising. The slightly good news, is that he does have the necessary size and quickness, so some of his weaknesses are coachable. But like I said back in Week 1 with Bodine, players usually don’t change; no matter how much Paul Alexander loves them.

So yeah, looking back at this loss was even more depressing than watching it live, but the defensive line will not play a better offensive line for the rest of the year. I think we’ll see the type of play that we saw against the Dolphins again this year, but not consistently enough that the offensive line will establish itself as a dominant front. The offensive line has much bigger issues as they head into New England to face off against a much better defensive line, because if they can’t keep guys away from Dalton, 2-4 is very likely.

Don’t score too much, Tom.