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Weekly Lineman: Fisher’s inexperience and Dunlap’s hands on display vs Eagles

Before his injury, Jake Fisher split reps at right tackle with Eric Winston. How did he do?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have not given up this season. Some teams who enter December with only three wins lose all hope and signs of competitiveness (looking at you Jets), but not this team. And that was evident when the team decided to bench right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, and have backup left tackle Jake Fisher rotate with Eric Winston, who started that game and played the opening two series. Ogbuehi and Winston have been rotating for a few weeks now, but with Ogbuehi’s performance still a major hindrance to the offense, the coaches decided to give Fisher a try. The players were notified last Wednesday that the change was being made. A handful of reps stood out to me from Fisher, let’s have a look:

Fisher’s natural athleticism was his most valuable attribute coming out of the fast paced Oregon offense. The former tight end turned tackle tested at elite levels at the 2015 Scouting Combine, measuring in the 90th percentile or better in the 40 Yard Dash, Vertical Jump, 3-Cone Drill, and even tested in the 100th percentile in the 20 Yard Shuttle.

And starting with the first snap he was on the field, midway through the second quarter, the Bengals utilized Fisher in a way they couldn’t with either Ogbuehi or Winston:

I am a fan of this play design, as it plays to everyone’s strengths. Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler beautifully execute their pulls, Russell Bodine and Andrew Whitworth have simple tasks to pin shaded defensive tackles, and Fisher gets to use that upper-tier speed and quickness to eliminate the backside linebacker in the second level.

Brandon LaFell was motioned toward the formation to cutoff left defensive end Brandon Graham, but Graham did a great job of recovering and ran down Jeremy Hill, who only got three yards due to the shuffling of his feet when he tried to cut upfield. It would not be the last time Graham made a great play this game, in fact, it took him about 30 seconds to do it again.

On the very next snap, the Bengals ran the same exact play with two differences. One, there was no one to delay Graham on the backside from running down the play this time, and Hill took the handoff from Andy Dalton’s left side. But the blocking assignments are identical, the Eagles just knew it was going to be the same play beforehand and demolished it, while Fisher ran downfield, blocking nobody and remaining unaware of the disaster behind him. But that’s not on him.

On third-and-11 on the next snap, they’re looking downfield to convert, which puts Fisher up against Graham for the first time:

This is really where Ogbuehi and Fisher’s struggles differentiate. Where Ogbuehi is passive and gets overpowered easily, Fisher is over-aggressive in his timing and has trouble landing his hands on rushers. He gets caught lunging and Graham makes him pay with a simple inside swim. The Eagles defender won the rep outright. Graham did get called for roughing the passer for his low hit on Dalton, but it doesn’t diminish how foolish he made Fisher look.

Graham had one more play in him against Fisher later in the quarter:

I’ve no doubt Fisher was kicking himself while watching this on film this week. He gets a great jump to get inside positioning on this reach block, but it ends up screwing him over in the end. Because he and Zeitler weren’t in sync with their first steps, Fisher trips over Zeitler’s foot and collapses against Graham, who again, made the tackle.

Finally, with under a minute left in the second quarter, Fisher got a break from Graham, but the same issues arise here as well against Graham’s backup Marcus Smith:

This was weird to see. His kickslide is fine and he mirrors Smith well, but then he twitches and rotates a tiny bit inside and opens his hands way too wide, as if he expected Smith to try and go inside. We then see a desperate lunge and Smith winning the rep, but unable to finish.

Fisher rotated in and out with Winston, as planned for the remainder of the game (until he got hurt in the fourth quarter) and the line didn’t give up a sack all afternoon. And for the most part, while Fisher didn’t always look good, it was as good as you could hope for from someone who hasn’t played any significant snaps in his NFL career. Fisher has the physical tools to succeed, it’s just things that require more reps that need working out. Timing is so important in an offensive lineman’s craft, and it’s really the biggest hurdle Fisher needs to overcome. Once the game slows down for him, he has the quickness and strength to hold down the right tackle spot. But that won’t happen unless he sees the field more.

Switching gears toward the defense, Carlos Dunlap had himself a day. With four tackles, half a sack, three QB hits and four passes defended, he was clearly the second best defender on the field, behind Vontaze Burfict. Of his multiple tipped passes, his first of the day was the most impressive in my eyes:

Coming from the wide nine spot, Dunlap gathered enough speed to take the right tackle all the way to the middle of the pocket, and he kept his eyes on quarterback Carson Wentz to determine when to get his hand up. Dunlap singlehandedly forced himself into a throwing lane he had no business being in, and timed the tip perfectly. Dunlap’s not tied for sixth in the league in passes defended for no reason, his length and as Charles Davis put it: “innate sense” for knowing when to get his hands up. is a lethal combination.

His hands and length do more for him than just ending passes, his half-sack was also a great demonstration of his savviness:

This is just unfair to the right tackle and the blame is really on Wentz more than anything. Scouts like long armed edge rushers for reasons like this. His extension negates any initial punch the right tackle tries on Dunlap, and then Dunlap uses his bend to turn the corner and eventually run down an unaware Wentz. Dunlap was in control the whole time because his hands and length keep him away from any position where he can’t win. And that’s the sign of a truly formidable talent.

So, solid weeks for both lines, and that should continue this week against the 0-12 Cleveland Browns.