As we start another regular season of the NFL, I want you all to know a harsh truth that not everyone associated with this game realizes: players don’t really change.
Players can improve upon formerly bad tendencies, and mold into “better” players overall; but for the most part, players stay who are they are until age or injury reduces them to complete ineffectiveness. A player who you see in college, they way he performs, the way he wins and the way he loses snaps, you’re almost always going to see that player succeed and fail in those similar ways in the NFL.
Because that’s who they are.
Proper coaching helps eliminate bad habits into nonexistence, and increase discipline when mistakes get made, but some players need more help than the next guy. And that is what Bengals center Russell Bodine is: a player who needs more help than the average player. A player who loses more than he wins and needs greater on-field and scheme assistance in order to win. This claim became extremely stronger after the Cincinnati Bengals opened up their 2016 season at MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets.
Where’s the anchor at?
Let’s start off at the second drive of the game. First and 10, the ball is at the Bengals’ 36 yard line. Quarterback Andy Dalton is operating in an empty set in the shotgun and has the typical 5 man protection against a 4 man rush.
Any quarterback’s perfect pocket looks like a really wide U, when the tackles execute their vertical sets and the interior guys anchor down. When the latter doesn’t happen, the pocket goes from that wide U, to a thin W, like what happened here; watch the middle of the screen, #92 in white.
Jets’ defensive lineman Leonard Williams is a very good player, he was a very good player in college too. He understands leverage and winning the battle of length. He gets both on this snap and runs Bodine right into Dalton’s personal space. You’ll hear me say “pressure is production” a lot this year, and this is what it exemplifies: Williams didn’t get the sack, but he sure helped nose tackle Steve McLendon get it.
If your center can’t re-establish his base and “anchor” his stance after initial contact with a bull rush, he’s not going to protect against interior pressure very well for very long, and in this day and age, interior pressure is king. If the clip above didn’t prove that, there’s more where that came from, specifically Williams.
It’s the early second quarter, 1st and 10 again, the ball is at the Bengals’ 25 yard line. The play-call is a screen for running back Jeremy Hill.
Obviously with a screen, an offensive lineman’s job is to let the opposing lineman get a little upfield so they’re behind the play when the screen begins, and the offensive lineman get a clear path to the second level. So, it’s normal for some offensive lineman to sometimes look like they lost a rep, or allow quick penetration when really they weren’t trying to fully engage with the defender. It’s part of their assignment.
But when it happens so abruptly and the lineman loses all positioning, the play can be destroyed before it even begins, (watch #61 in black).
Time and time again, Bodine has proven he cannot stand his ground at the snap. His hands are in no position to receive the bull rush, and his balance is being manipulated due to a severe lack of core strength. He cannot be trusted to win one on one. For this reason, guard’s Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling are asked to chip Bodine’s assignment many times throughout games where he struggles.
The best example of this from this week’s game came on A.J. Green’s touchdown reception from Dalton, watch #61 and #68 in black.
It’s funny to me how Williams is floored after Bodine and Zeitler double him, but when he gets back up, he easily beats Bodine with a simple swat and swim move, only to be tripped up by Boling next to them. Williams’ efforts had no impact on Dalton’s throw, but I’d call this rep a win for Williams, coming back from an effective chip block and beating his man only to run out space to penetrate. It goes to show how some of Bodine’s “best” reps happen when he gets help in the process.
The now third year pro didn’t fare much better in the run game either. On this second and 22 early in the 3rd quarter, running back Giovani Bernard had a hole to his right close immediately, causing him to cut to his left where a defender is waiting for him. Go ahead and focus in on #61 in black again:
Zeitler comes in with the chip again as he moves upfield, but it does nothing for Bodine, as he struggles to reposition Williams (there’s that man again), who partially performs what is called “stack and shed”, moving laterally with the offensive lineman away from the play and shedding him back towards the play.
Of course it wasn’t too hard for Williams after he got Bodine high stepping with his right foot:
Not even Kevin Mawae in his prime can block like that.
Just after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, the Bengals were trying to get into comfortable field goal range, while also trying to run some clock as well. They call an outside zone for Jeremy Hill from the shotgun. Watch #99 in white.
McLendon got a great jump off the line, but notice how quickly he turns and opens up Bodine’s torso, allowing him to push him right into Hill’s running lane. It’s just too easy.
We’re still looking for that anchor
Another Bengal lineman that struggled was right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. One of Ogbuehi’s biggest strength as a tackle are his quick feet, he gets out of his stance very fast, and is agile enough to mirror edge rushers and beat them before they can corner the edge. But perhaps his biggest weakness is the lack of power he gets from his core at the point of attack, as shown here on this first and goal from the seven yard line right before halftime; watch right side of the screen for #70 in black.
I realize the entirety of the offensive line was really really bad on this play, but when evaluating a player’s performance, you have to focus in on their play alone, unless it’s being altered by a surrounding teammate. Notice how easily Williams gets into his chest, and how easily Ogbuehi is forced off balance. Williams fills that gap like it’s nothing. On the very next play, we see similar issues. This time, watch the right side of the screen, again for #70 in black.
Any rep for an offensive lineman that starts with him backpedalling is not going to end well. There’s no power that can come from that, which is exactly why Jets’ defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson owned Ogbuehi from the start.
The concerns with Bodine can be matched with Ogbuehi, they both don’t have heavy hands and have them swept away with ease, and they can’t utilize power to counter. Ogbuehi at the very least has prototypical length to aid him negating speed rushers, but it does little for him in these situations if there’s no drive to his punch.
It wasn’t the best week for them, but in all honestly, both starters lack significant traits in terms of play strength and finishing blocks, issues that are hard to correct as a coach. Granted, they were up against some of the best players they will see all year, but still, bad traits are bad traits. They only enlarge when the matchup is more disadvantageous.
I’ll leave you all with a typical Geno Atkins pressure that we’re all so used to seeing, but something was interesting in terms of personnel and formation:
Pictured above is a bear front, named after Buddy Ryan’s famous 46 defense that dominated the mid 80’s. It consists of a 0-Tech (Atkins), two 3-Techs on both sides of the ball (Dunlap and Hunt) and two wide edge players (Johnson and Dansby). Together it makes for a 5-2 box formation. It’s an uncommon formation nowadays for teams that employ a 4-3 system, but it seemed to have popped up a few times this week, and it worked well for the Bengals when they deployed it:
The middle linebacker, Vinny Rey, went for the left A-gap and Atkins handled the right guard with ease, while Dunlap and Hunt were really playing a deep contain and Johnson and Dansby covered the flats. It’ll be interesting to see if the team decides to continue running the nickel personnel in this formation going forward, but it was cool to see it in action.
Thanks for reading
That’s all for this week. The lineman play between the Bengals and the Steelers is always intriguing, so hopefully this piece will be a bit more optimistic next week.