For many players, preseason games are some of the most important moments of the entire season, largely because it’s the only real chance they get to prove themselves and to showcase their ability. Fortunately for the Cincinnati Bengals, their first showing on Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers proved the offense is looking to be incredibly deep this season. One of the team’s largest concerns coming into 2017 was the strength of its offensive line. After losing an All-Pro caliber left tackle in Andrew Whitworth and a standout guard in Kevin Zeitler, it’s certainly fair to question a line that gave up 41 sacks last season with those two guys. While there are definitely still causes for panic at the tackle position, particularly with former first round pick Cedric Ogbuehi, there is a boatload of talent on the interior of the line. Let’s go to the tape to see what went right and what went wrong in the Bengals’ preseason opener against the Buccaneers.
Wrong place at the wrong time
The Bengals had a pretty solid run game established for the duration of the contest, but even so it’s easy to pick out bad plays.
I don’t want people to think I’m just going to crap on Ogbuehi for the length of this article, because I’m not. He showed a lot of improvement minus a huge whiff and a few mistakes in the run game. This particular snap, though, I find to be a cardinal sin of playing offensive line. Starting out, Ogbuehi does a nice job to pass the double team off to Clint Boling, and catches the safety and moves him out so it’s easier for Ryan Hewitt to pick up. But then, Ogbuehi just stands there. He knows where the play is going, he knows that the back is going to come right for him, but he’s turned around looking in his own backfield just getting in the running back’s way. He needs to have the awareness of where he is to keep moving downfield and looking for blockers. You’ve done a great job to get the other team out of the way, but it doesn’t do much good if you’re in the way yourself.
A well-oiled machine
Now, here’s a play where the entire line, including Ogbuehi, dominates. Pay particular attention to the second year left guard Christian Westerman.
The zone blocking scheme is executed to perfection as the entire offensive front is washing everything down to the sideline, allowing Joe Mixon to read the blocks and pick his hole. What Westerman does that is so special is his awareness. A good offensive lineman can feel where the running back is or is going without looking at the back. By tracking the angles of approaching defenders you can get a sense of where your ball carrier is located. He progresses to the Mike linebackers and can see the edge rusher from the far side taking a pursuit angle up-field. He then is able to shield his body and wall off both defenders.
The young guys can play, too
There was some great run blocking late in the game as well, with an unknown right tackle contributing in a big way that I thought deserved credit.
Focus on the right side of the offensive line here, as the Bengals run a zone left blocking scheme. The offense blocks down, with the right guard being Alex Redmond who does a nice job of sealing things off. The surprising (and in my opinion best) block comes from number 78, undrafted rookie Kent Perkins from Texas. Perkins absolutely blows his man off the ball and opens a massive hole for Tra Carson to run through. What is really impressive is Perkins doesn’t let up at any point in the play. He continues to finish his block throughout the duration of the play. If he plays well next week I wouldn’t mind seeing him play right tackle with the second team offense. I truly believe Christian Westerman and Trey Hopkins will have big years for the Bengals. Kent Perkins could very well also be a guy who finds a role for himself with a very weak tackle group this year.
The Jeff Driskel Show
It would be insulting for me to not mention just how well Jeff Driskel played. He looked extremely comfortable in the offense and seemed like the best player on the field throughout the entire second half. He was very comfortable running the read option, not only for the touchdown, but also for a big gain later on. Just look below at how he reads that right side edge defender and correctly chooses to keep the ball after the edge crashes on the running back.
Finally, Driskel is making extremely smart reads in the passing game. The NFL doesn’t seem to be too big for him at all, at least in a backup capacity. Take this play late in the fourth quarter for example.
The problem with a lot of young NFL quarterbacks is being able to correctly identify pressure pre-snap. Notice the safety lining up almost overtop of the slot corner. It’s slightly staggered, but close enough. This is a tipping point that the slot defender is probably going to blitz, and the safety is aligned how he is in order to cover the slot. Sure enough, this is exactly what happens. Driskel reads it and immediately at the snap and hits his slot receiver on a slant. This is a hot read for the quarterback, and it’s essentially free yardage as long as you can diagnose it. I would be very comfortable placing a bet that Jeff Driskel will be this team’s number two quarterback in 2018.