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Weekly Lineman: Zeitler consistent while Bengals’ offense sputters vs Steelers

Lost in the offensive line shuffle this year is the steady play of Kevin Zeitler.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The NFL is a league full of narratives. Some transcend to last for years, and some end up getting lost in the crowd along the way. But narratives are always present in some way, shape or form. The media does their job of fueling them, and fans and teams alike try their best to extinguish them. Aside from the coaching narratives that have plagued the Bengals for what seems like a generation now, the most prevalent on-the-field narrative this year is how much the team’s offensive line has regressed compared to years past. While this is warranted based on the overall play of the group, it should be noted that not everyone has been underperforming.

Kevin Zeitler confirmed this with his performance against the Steelers this past Sunday. Zeitler was also named a Pro Bowl third alternate on Tuesday. Let’s take a look at how he did this week.

Cleaning linebackers

Zeitler was a menace against Pittsburgh’s linebackers, and even when the results of the plays could’ve been better, the fifth year starter never let up.

Play 1

  • 9:14 left in the first quarter
  • First-and-10
  • Ball on the Steelers’ seven yard-line

Zeitler is just going to arm-bar Pittsburgh’s Leterrius Walton (#96) into right tackle Jake Fisher’s down-block, and engage the MIKE, Lawrence Timmons (#94), sealing him off for the gap that running back Jeremy Hill was supposed to attack. However, that didn’t happen:

Zeitler and Fisher did just fine, it was the lackluster play on both sides of them that doomed the play. Center Russell Bodine gets overpowered at the point of attack and gets no push on Daniel McCullers (#93), while tight end Tyler Kroft can’t disengage off his block to stop the apparently unaccounted for Bud Dupree (#48) from shooting his gap. Plays like this have no chance if the defense takes advantage of physical and mental miscues. If things went according to plan, Hill wouldn’t have Pittsburgh’s most imposing linebacker in his face making his way upfield, Zeitler had it taken care of.

Play 2

  • 3:34 left in the first quarter
  • First-and-10
  • Ball on the Bengals’ 36 yard-line

There’s different personnel surrounding him, but Zeitler is going to do the same thing. And wouldn’t you know it, the other players do their jobs too:

Same school of thought here. This time the MIKE is Ryan Shazier (#50), and he moves up too far upfield to get steered out of the play by Zeitler. Hill does a good job of getting skinny in the hole to get through, but Zeitler again makes sure he gets clean and negates Shazier from making a play.

Play 3

  • 9:06 left in the second quarter
  • third-and-one
  • Ball on the Steelers’ four yard-line

Before Hill found the end zone for the ninth time this year and a terrible towel to disrespect, who else but Zeitler got push against two Steelers on a goal-to-go play?

It’s just a simple iso concept here; Hewitt takes care of Shazier, Zeitler and Bodine tag team McCullers on the deuce block, meanwhile, Timmons is reading the play the whole way, flowing to the opposite a gap and hoping to meet Hill. Earlier in the game, Timmons got a huge hit on Hill at the goal line, but it wouldn’t happen again here. Zeitler stunts Timmons with his outside arm, while still engaged with McCullers with his inside arm. Timmons is sealed off, and Zeitler has total control, and with a little push from Hill behind him, Zeitler pushes back Timmons out of another touchdown-saving tackle.

Play 4

  • 10:32 left in the third quarter
  • first-and-10
  • Ball on the Bengals’ 10 yard-line

When he entered the the 2014 NFL Draft, one of the knocks on Shazier was how his size would allow second level blockers to control and take him out of plays. Well, Zeitler may agree after this play:

That’s just demeaning.

Zeitler completely eliminates Shazier from the play with great quick quickness out of his stance, getting his hands in a controlled position locked on Shazier, and he doesn’t stop until Shazier is on the ground. From start to finish, this is how you block in the second level. It was yet another tremendous display of raw power by Zeitler, and it shouldn’t have been as important as it ended up being for the play.

The Bengals deploy a lot of zone runs for Hill, and despite not getting any push on the playside, Hill fails to recognize the flow of the defense and naturally chooses the wrong gap when cutting back:

Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Zeitler has been playing at this level all year long, and nobody has given him any attention due to the revolving door at right tackle, along with Bodine’s inconsistencies. The fact of the matter is, Zeitler has been surrounded by incompetence this entire year. Truthfully, I don’t know whether or not this will affect his market value, as he is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. But I know however much he ends up making, he’ll be worth every penny because of games like this.

Whether it’s here or somewhere else, get yours Kevin Zeitler.

With two games remaining, the Bengals are officially out of the playoff race, unlike their next opponent, the Houston Texans, who lead their division by a single game. However, the Texans haven’t solidified that division lead because of shoddy quarterback play. The team announced this week that they’ve benched their $72 million man Brock Osweiler, for third year backup Tom Savage, whose first start will be against the lackluster front four of the Bengals. It’ll take more than what we saw on Sunday against Ben Roethlisberger to rattle the young signal caller, and the matchup between defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and left tackle Andrew Whitworth should be fun to watch as well.