Death, taxes and questions about the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line.
This offseason has been plagued by negative chatter regarding the team’s offensive line. It certainly won’t help anyone feel any better to see where Cincinnati ranks in Pro Football Focus’ assessment of all 32 NFL teams’ offensive lines.
Heading into the 2017 season, the Bengals are among the league’s cellar-dwellers when it comes to the big uglies and according to PFF, the Bengals’ offensive line is the second worst in the NFL.
31. Cincinnati Bengals
No line can lose two Pro Bowl-caliber players and expect to still perform at a high level. This is especially true for the Bengals who look completely at a loss to fill the shoes of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler. The loss may be felt the most at tackle where the drafted replacements – Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi – have looked lost anytime they’ve seen the field.
This is a big change from past years, even 2016 when PFF ranked the Bengals’ offensive line 13th in the NFL following the completion of last season.
The offensive line is a big reason why the guys at PFF aren’t very high on the Bengals this year. In a separate article (via ESPN), PFF ranked the Bengals’ roster in the bottom half of the league. In doing so, they used their player rankings to assess just how good each NFL team is when it comes to talent.
23. Cincinnati Bengals
Biggest strength: Injury robbed A.J. Green of a career year in 2016 -- he averaged 2.86 yards per route run on 95 targets in 10 games, trailing only Julio Jones.
Biggest weakness: Cincinnati's offensive line had been a strength for years, but it now has major weak spots, particularly at left tackle with Cedric Ogbuehi, who allowed nine sacks and 43 pressures in just 680 snaps in 2016.
By the numbers: Stalwart tackle Andrew Whitworth, who left for the Rams in free agency, surrendered just 15 pressures in 1,064 snaps in 2016. Things were much worse on the right side. Jake Fisher allowed 13 pressures in just 300 snaps, while Eric Winston gave up eight in 279 snaps. The Bengals' pass protection is likely to suffer a significant hit in 2017 without Whitworth.
There’s no question this offensive line is a major concern heading into next season. Ogbuehi is a major liability at left tackle, easily the line’s most important position. Russell Bodine is also among the league’s worst starting centers.
Then there’s the right guard situation, where veteran right tackle Andre Smith is expected to start. With his play having fallen off a cliff in recent years, Smith is about as big of a question mark as Bodine, especially as he’s switching positions.
Only four teams have more starters with “poor” rankings from PFF than the Bengals. Though, Pat Sims is unlikely to be starting for the Bengals, despite what the above graphic shows. It will likely be 2016 fourth round draft pick Andrew Billings in that role, though he’s yet to start.
In addition to the above and to instill some confidence, take a look at this:
Six players who graded well in college. All yet to play a snap in the NFL.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 4, 2017
Don't on the @Bengals pic.twitter.com/SdogYc56JH
With that said, there’s a ton of talent on this roster that, if used properly, can carry this team to a winning season and playoff berth. The offensive assortment of Green, Tyler Eifert, John Ross, Joe Mixon and Andy Dalton are more than enough to carry this team to double-digit wins. The question is whether or not they’ll be able to thrive behind this offensive line and whether the new line will jive and surprise its abundance of doubters.
Any bad line can derail even the most talented of teams. It’s clear that PFF thinks that is what’s in store for the Bengals in 2017, but let’s hope they’re wrong in this assessment. The Bengals do best when everyone is doubting them, right?