Firstly, I’m not here to steal John Sheeran’s thunder: His Weekly Lineman series is a fantastic review from within the trenches and recommended reading. Film review is a difficult and time-consuming process. Kudos to anyone that does it right, and consistently.
That being said, how about this Bengals running game? It’s great, right?
For the most part, it was terrible.
Offensive linemen were routinely overpowered, slow to recognize stunts, and it didn’t help opposing defenses were comfortably saturating the line of scrimmage, displaying minimal concern for Cincinnati’s passing game outside of A.J. Green. Despite generating 288 yards in the final two games, Cincinnati’s rushing offense was historically bad.
Bengals Rushing Offense in 2017 vs Franchise Worst
|RUSHING YARDS||1366||49||949 in 1982 (Strike)|
|RUSHING YARDS/GAME||85.4||50||85.4 in 2017|
|RUSHING YARDS/CARRY||3.67||46||3.53 in 1982|
|RUSHING TDs||6||t-47||3 in 1993|
(This table will be presented every week)
Yet, their performances over the final two games illustrates relative optimism heading into 2018.
- Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will have an entire offseason to implement his terminology, plays, and philosophies, which is important because now he’s become familiar with his players. I know, the Bengals offense finished last in 2017, but he acquired an absolute mess on the offensive line, and had young receivers that were benched for one reason or another.
- Paul Alexander is moving on to other things. No need to expand on this, really.
- Recent performances by Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond were encouraging; Trey Hopkins shouldn’t be lost in this conversation either. He’ll continue to develop and improve.
- Clint Boling showed tremendous versatility (can he play center?).
These performances weren’t against bad teams either; the Lions and Ravens each had playoff opportunities heading into their respective games against the Bengals.
And we beat the living shit out of them. Cincinnati won both games, primarily on the ground. Let’s quickly review a few plays.
Cincinnati has second down from their own 10-yard line with 4:09 remaining in the first quarter. Giovani Bernard, flanking Andy Dalton’s left, receives the handoff, and targets the edge. Clint Boling encountered minimal resistance against an aging Dwight Freeney. Westerman and Russell Bodine brilliantly crafted a rushing lane by containing Detroit’s defensive tackle and linebacker at the point of attack.
What impressed me, and I’m sure most of you, was Westerman.
For example, Lions defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter, outside Westerman’s left shoulder, shot towards the A Gap; Ledbetter’s angle meant he’d cross Westerman. Natural instincts confiscated Westerman, who chipped Ledbetter into Russell Bodine and redirected to the second level. Westerman zeroed on linebacker Paul Worrilow, who took a significant outside pursuit, allowing Westerman to seal the linebacker outside while Bodine muscled protection against any inside pursuits. What you watched was a beautifully constructed and executed nine-yard gain.
The instinct is what impressed me. Clearly Ledbetter, in a three-technique, was Westerman’s assignment. Instead, Westerman disengaged with Ledbetter and sought, the next defender. It’s essentially zone blocking, which requires blockers to apply more instinct and recognition. It’s similar to Alex Redmond and Clint Boling beautifully exchanging defenders against this stunt last week against Baltimore.
While you thinking, “this is what they’re supposed to do; they are professionals,” and you’re not wrong in thinking that, this hasn’t been the case this year. Coaching, experience, you can blame it all. You should blame it all. However, the Bengals offensive line has progressively improved over the last two games.
Where instinct is strong, Westerman’s raw power is even more impressive.
It’s first down from the Lions 18-yard line with 7:41 remaining in the third quarter. Brian Hill muscles for a three-yard gain. So what, big deal! Westerman attacks A’Shawn Robinson, listed at 322 pounds (which is either a lie or his listed weight in high school). Not only did Westerman hold his own, with some help from Bodine, Robinson lost his footing/foundation and is driven backwards. This is raw power.
Redmond and Westerman each flashed against the Lions and Ravens. They failed on plays too; they’re young, developing, but also inexperienced.
However, the prospects with their future is encouraging.
Cincinnati has first down from their own 45-yard line with 7:05 remaining in the second quarter. Andy Dalton receives the shotgun snap, Giovani Bernard secures the ensuing handoff, and scrambles 21 yards to the Ravens 34-yard line. Five plays later, the Bengals take a surprising 14-3 lead with a touchdown.
Giovani Bernard’s run is an example of quality offensive line work. Clint Boling secured Matthew Judon off the edge while Chris Redmond caused C.J. Mosley enough disruption to prevent the linebacker from making the play. And Russell Bodine... well, he created such a roadblock that any additional pursuit was limited.
These guys are enjoying themselves.
“Oh yeah, it was a lot of fun,” Westerman said following Cincinnati’s win over the Lions. “Me and Red (Alex Redmond) were having fun out there getting opportunities — just being able to get out there and hit people again. It’s a lot of fun.”
“Honestly, I was just happy to have Clint Boling next to me on my left (laughs),” Redmond added. “Honestly, I think he did 89% of the work. I’ll take the other 11 ... I’m just glad I got to play. I was excited to see my boy Westerman play too. It was a good day.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a blurb on Redmond in their “The Walkthrough” last week:
“Scary” is an adjective I’ve heard from multiple people since Redmond joined the team last year as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA. He was the youngest draft-eligible player, just 20 years old. Super raw, too. In so many ways. Admittedly, he said his technique and study habits weren’t great in his first season. Neither was his conditioning.
But that changed this past offseason, and this year. He earned his way to the active roster, and offensive snaps against Cleveland in October. Then, against Chicago, defensive line coach Jacob Burney said you know what, let me use this scary dude on my D-line. Redmond was also used in goal line on offense in Minnesota.
Cincinnati’s future with their interior line is promising.
The question now still remains:
- What to do at center?
- Should they cut their losses with their young offensive tackles, or give it one more shot?