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The Weekly Lineman: Bengals’ Johnson and Dean impress vs Detroit

It was a good week for run blocking and run defense, but there are still some kinks to work out for the second team offensive line.

Last week, we kicked off The Weekly Lineman series with a few plays regarding edge setting responsibilities for defensive ends, and what made the power run so successful. Against Detroit, we saw the Bengals defensive line continue to cause havoc in spurts against an offense that was on the hottest of hot streaks to end the year last year. And on the offensive side of the ball, the second team offensive line played well, but left some to be desired as well.

Johnson executes perfect swim move

About four minutes into the game, this was the first play that stood out to me. Defensive end Michael Johnson knows who he is as a football player. He’s not going to win with speed or bend around the edge, he’s not going to push left tackles back with a devastating bull rush. He’s not a double digit sack guy, but he can sure as Hell play the run.

Look at the jump he gets off the line. He’s already in mid-swim before the tackle gets his punch off. Quickness off the snap isn’t only useful as pass rusher, and not all of the best run defenders have dominating power. This is craft turned to production. Once he’s left the tackle in the dust, eyes on the ball, he resets his feet very quickly, and closes on the running back, who’s got nowhere to run.

This is where Johnson’s $six million average per year on his contract is going. Base ends one way or another need to get off blocks and set edges, Johnson is one of the best at it.

Safety George Iloka could’ve also made a play on the running back. He was playing in the box as an extra strong side linebacker, but ended up waiting on the running back’s change of direction and missing him completely after taking a bad angle into the backfield. It was an oddity for a player like Iloka, but it didn’t ruin the play by any means.

Confusion leads to blown-up backfield

This play was featured in my article concerning guard Christian Westerman, but let’s take a look at what happened next to Westerman:

The easiest explanation for this is a misinterpretation of the playcall by center T.J. Johnson and left guard Alex Redmond. The play clearly called for a zone run, as illustrated by four or five lineman moving right (left on screen) to flow with the stretch, and Johnson assumed the play called for man as he attempts to make a down block on the defensive tackle.

Had he done what he was supposed to, the middle linebacker would’ve been sealed off the hole and a gap would’ve opened for running back Cedric Peerman. But this wouldn’t have been possible because Westerman over-reached on his gap block, completely destroying the play even more.

Luckily for Johnson, he later redeemed himself.

Johnson and Hopkins seal a hole

Running back Rex Burkhead had himself a night against the Lions, including this 15 yard run, all setup by two key blocks:

This is a play you’ll see a lot from the Bengals this season, halfback sweep from a shotgun set. Right off the bat, Johnson engages the nose with an always difficult reach block on the play side. In order to seal the hole, Johnson slides his feet and maintains great arm length. The nose tries to spin away, but he’s already out of position.

On the other side, left tackle Trey Hopkins does a great job getting a wide base to seal off his man as well. Great positioning and footwork are on display by both of them.

Redmond peels off to the second level, and is tasked with being the lead blocker for Burkhead as he makes his way down field. I want to see more aggression from Redmond in this situation. You see him hesitate with a false step, and eventually get in a foot race with the linebacker. That does nothing there. He has to attack that linebacker to take him out of the play to give Burkhead as much space to operate with as possible.

Dean continues to flash shedding ability

If there’s anyone on the defensive side of the ball who’s got a practice squad job locked up, it has to be Dean. Twice now in the first two weeks of the preseason, he has blown up a running play behind the line of scrimmage by getting lateral and fighting through side blocks.

The power it takes to run through a chop block is immense. The reason why chop blocks are so effective is they take out a player’s balance in his legs, it’s designed to at the very least slow him down. Dean doesn’t seem to mind here. Sniffing out the tackle run from the start, he fights through initial traffic and closes in on the running back, and wraps up nicely.

Plays like these are what made long time starting nose tackle Domata Peko so valuable, the ability to utilize lateral agility and get off blocks. For 1 gap defenders, like the defensive tackles in the Bengals’ scheme, this is an important trait to have. Dean still needs to work on getting off down blocks effectively, but it’s pleasing to see him work off plays like this so early in his NFL career.

Both lines for the Bengals will be tested well against revamped fronts in Jacksonville this Sunday. It’ll be the last time we see the starters play until Week 1 of the regular season, so hopefully we get some quality play from the stars of two great position groups.