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Kevin Zeitler’s dominance vs Brown paid dividends for Bengals’ run game

The guard experienced some struggles early on in the season, but a breakthrough performance against the Browns seems to have him back on track.

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The struggles of the Bengals’ offensive line have been well-documented, but two of the more disappointing players through the first six games or so were Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, simply because they’re the two best players on the line and weren’t playing as well as we’ve grown accustomed to.

Whitworth looked good on Sunday, but Zeitler was even better, garnering attention from all over for his standout performance. Per Pro Football Focus, the guard — who was their sixth-best player of the week — did not allow a single pressure on 31 pass-blocking snaps and made a tremendous impact in the running game. PFF even noted “the Bengals averaged 10 yards per carry either side of his blocks in this game.” Zeitler’s 88.8 grade on the week was the highest of any player on either side of the ball in Cincinnati, with A.J. Green, Whitworth and Dre Kirkpatrick as his only teammates to finish with grades of at least 80.

The MMQB’s Peter King noticed Zeitler and praised the guard in his Monday column, as his biggest unsung hero of the week:

1. Guard Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati. Zeitler quietly had a phenomenal performance against the Browns. He did not allow a single sack, hit or hurry of Andy Dalton on 31 pass-block snaps. Zeitler also was a very proficient run blocker and helped the Bengals rush for 271 yards as a team; his 90.5 run-blocking grade led the league in Week 7.

Zeitler’s performance also elevated teammate Jeremy Hill as one of King’s three nominees for Offensive Player of the Week. Hill’s performance certainly deserves merit on its own, but as we’ve seen, he’s a completely different back when the line in front of him is creating lanes for the third-year back to run through. They did that successfully on Sunday and it paid off.

As many know, Zeitler is playing for a new contract, though talks between he and the team have reportedly been tabled until after the season. Though performances like this will certainly drive up his asking price, the Bengals certainly hope Zeitler can continue his streak of dominance, as Hill, Giovani Bernard and the run game in general have greatly benefitted from the guard’s contributions when they’ve come.

If Zeitler (and Whitworth) can keep it up, the Bengals’ line has the talent to leave the first six weeks behind and emerge as one of the better units in the NFL. There’s still a long ways to go before Cincinnati’s line can bounce back, but it’s refreshing to see that the guys responsible for keeping Dalton upright still have the talent to do so. Now, it’s a matter of maintaining the level of play on a more consistent basis and continuing to develop the continuity and cohesiveness needed to succeed as a unit.