673 days before last Sunday was January 9, 2016. That date hurts for most of us for obvious reasons, but besides a certain event that happened in some playoff game between two AFC North rivals, it was Andre Smith’s last full game starting at right tackle for the Bengals.
Since that date, Smith was signed by the Minnesota Vikings in free agency, played four games at right tackle for Mike Zimmer’s team in the purple and white, and injured his tricep, ending his 2016 season. Earlier this year he signed back with the Bengals to play right guard, lost that battle in training camp to current starter Trey Hopkins, and up until Sunday had been rotating at both tackle spots ever since.
After last week’s lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars, we learned that starting right tackle Jake Fisher has been dealing with an irregular heart beat, and that game would be his last for the season as he underwent a procedure to try to correct it. Smith had been rotating with Fisher to ease his snap count while dealing with this issue, and has even started a game at the position, but prior to Sunday, he hadn’t played 100 percent of an offense’s snaps since Week 3 of last year with the Vikings. That changed Sunday as Smith was the guy on the right edge for the Bengals offensive line. Pro Football Focus actually graded him as the best tackle in the entire league this week, as seen above. I focused on him this week to see how valid that statement is.
Smith’s main adversary this game was left outside linebacker Derrick Morgan, who for the most part, was aligned at the Wide 9-technique spot. Morgan tried to pull off this inside jab-rip combo nearly all game long. In his first attempt, Morgan begins with stabbing Smith with his inside arm. This negates Smith’s extension on his punch and gives Morgan room to work around the edge. He uses a rip move to swipe away Smith’s outside hand and tries to work the corner. Smith does just enough to run him out of the pocket.
It’s a shame Andy Dalton fumbled this snap not only because it led to a turnover, but because this could’ve been fully recognized as Smith’s best rep of the day. Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is lined up at 4-technique, working on the B-gap against right guard Trey Hopkins. Smith takes the initiative to chip Casey and send him to dirt before worrying about Morgan’s delayed rush off the edge. You love to see this in film review.
This block from Smith got recognition by Bengals legend Willie Anderson. On this outside zone playcall, Smith is asked to reach block the 3-technique on the play, which is Daquan Jones. Notice how Jones never crosses Smith’s face, flowing with the play, and Smith washes him out of running back Joe Mixon’s cutback lane for the touchdown. He finishes the block and buries him to the ground for good measure, though PFF doesn’t give extra credit for that.
We see the inside jab followed by an outside counter from Morgan again here. Smith is a little late mirroring Morgan here from that aforementioned Wide-9 alignment. Dalton gets the ball out relatively quickly and Morgan’s win is effectively negated, but this is sloppy work from Smith.
With a little help from Hopkins taking on the 2-technique, Smith finishes Morgan on another reach block on the backside of an outside zone playcall.
For the majority of the game, the Bengals schemed rolling pockets, slide protections and play action/run/pass options to aid their pass protection. This play, the whole right side and Clint Boling slides to the right to open up Dalton’s throwing lane to the left and Morgan beats Smith with the inside-rip combo again, but the throw is made quickly and Smith is saved due to play design.
Morgan kept trying the same move nearly all game, and Smith kept riding him out of the play every time he attempted it. Smith was already in the process of riding out Morgan when he continued to attempt the same rip move. Smith was isolated with the slide protection toward the play side of the play, and just pushed Morgan out of the pocket.
In one of the most critical plays of the game, Smith and Hopkins get twisted on a tackle-end twist performed by Morgan and Orakpo. Smith ends up giving up the c-gap to the stunting Orakpo who records a QB hit on Dalton, which led to an intentional grounding penalty.
Overall, Smith had a solid outing against Morgan in both pass protection and run blocking. His 85.9 grade given by PFF is independent to PFF, but that seems like an accurate grade after going through this game twice. Smith got beaten a few times, but looked more than serviceable at right tackle full time for the first time in more than a year. We’ll see if it continues against Von Miller and the Denver Broncos this Sunday.