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Weekly Lineman: Bengals’ usual suspects set the tone for both sides of the ball

The Bengals’ front four on defense had more success than the front five on offense in Sunday’s loss.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

364 days ago:

“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.”

Here we are again.

Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals front five on offense were the primary culprits of the team’s 20-0 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Some may place the blame solely on one or the other, but it truly was a conjoined effort by the two entities.

For every problem, there is a catalyst that sparks it. After watching the first drive of the game, it was clear what caused the wheels to inevitably fall off.

The second and third plays of the game, the tone was set.

It truly is remarkable how Russell Bodine consistently never wins at first contact or gets any leverage in his set, ever. We talk about tangible assets a lot around draft season for offensive lineman; arm length, hand size, etc. One of the most important physical attributes an interior lineman can have is grip strength.

How well can you lock onto your man and dictate and negate his movement at the pinnacle of contact likely makes or breaks the rep. Bodine has no control of nose tackle Brandon Williams here. His hands are too far outside and he doesn’t have the length or power to fight off Williams’s reach. His hands are rendered useless along with his sorry attempt of re-anchoring. You can see how he attempts to chop Williams away, but at this point he’s in an extremely vulnerable position 5 yards in the backfield.

Next play it’s Ogbuehi’s turn. At this point, I might be convinced Ogbuehi has wired his set to be reactionary rather than progressive, and that could work if Ogbuehi was a completely different physical being.

Ogbuehi is actually in a solid position to beat Suggs before he could do anything, but he allows edge rusher Terrell Suggs to make the first move and tries to counter as he loses half man leverage. Suggs dips around Ced’s sorry punch with a two hand swat and draws the hold as he also gets the credit for a QB hurry.

Dalton may have sensed this pressure, but he sure as Hell watched the pressure in front of him allowed by running back Giovani Bernard. There’s not much to this one, right tackle Jake Fisher knew he had Bernard behind him and passed edge rusher Za’Darius Smith off to him, Bernard is just plain late to pick him up and allows him a free lane to Dalton. Not the most ideal start.

If you aren’t going to initiate the contact, and you can’t absorb or redirect what is being thrown at you, what’s to stop the guy from going right at you? I’ve said this many times before, and it still applies: Ogbuehi has the feet quickness to run guys out if they try to bend around him as long as he gets his reach on them, but he doesn’t have the core strength to catch a bull rush, from Suggs nonetheless.

There is nothing good about this. Nothing. This is what outclassed looks like. This is what happens when Alabama plays middle college state university on a September Saturday afternoon. It’s that bad. The one redeeming action Bodine does is his initial punch off the snap, getting under tackle Michael Pierce’s hands off course to start, but Pierce does a perfect job of resetting on a dime and getting his hands under Bodine’s pads. Game over. Bodine gets caught flat footed and is under Pierce’s control. I’ve honestly never seen a center off his feet as much as Bodine, and that all comes from a basic lack of physical prowess to match up with great talents like Williams and Pierce.

The offense let the defense down on Sunday, but Geno Atkins still finds a way to make his presence known.

This doesn’t happen often to All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda. His strength is literally his strength, he’s country strong. He gets his hands on you, it’s game over. But Atkins doesn’t let you get your hands on him, his quickness off the snap rivals very few in the league. He starts by attacking his center, but essentially jerks his landing and disengages causing Yanda to miss low. This is a slight variant of the “Bull-jerk” move, where you attack as if you were going to bull rush, but then jerk the blocker's hands down when they get too high and use that path to, in Geno’s case, swim around him.

Aaron Donald, Gerald McCoy, maybe Fletcher Cox. They guys who are quick enough and flexible enough to pull this off. You can tell by looking at the left guard what Yanda wants to do, and that’s to seal off Atkins to his right to clear the lane for the draw.

Geno is there, and then he isn’t. He swims past Yanda’s attack and almost gets too far upfield to make a play. But at 300 pounds, he just sticks his left foot into the ground and turn 90 degrees and makes the tackle for loss. That’s crazy. He basically washed himself out of the play, while making Yanda look like a fool again, and single-handedly snuffed the play out. Elite athleticism mixed with expert play recognition is a combination only the best at the position have, #97 is no exception.

Even when he’s not lined up on his side, Atkins still gave Yanda the business. The Ravens run a trap concept, an inside run where they fold the playside guard around the center to take care of the backside defensive tackle. This is problematic when the defensive tackle gets three yards in the backfield as soon as the ball carrier gets the ball.

While Yanda is folding, center Ryan Jensen is being acquainted with Andrew Billings, and losing his lunch money in the process. Because of Geno’s disruption, running back Javorius Allen is taken right to Billings, who meets him in the backfield. Billings was flagged for unnecessary roughness, but looking past that, this is what we’ve been waiting for since Domata Peko left for the Broncos.

The more he plays, the more consistent Billings will get. He’s been doing this since his Baylor, it’s nothing new to him, but the rust in between the highlights can be attributed to him getting back in the swing of things coming off a year long injury. Pat Sims is a stopgap, Billings is the future next to Atkins.

I’m not sure what to expect when the Bengals play the Houston Texans Thursday night. The biggest mismatches of the game will be both defensive lines against each underwhelming offensive line, and both team’s quarterbacks are coming off bad games mainly as a result of their protection up front.

Whichever defensive line makes the most plays will likely be the difference, and if the Bengals want to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start, they better pray Atkins and company show up in a big way.