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Bengals Weekly Lineman: Clint Boling’s off day came at a bad time

First-round pick Billy Price’s return to center had it’s share of good and bad moments against the Saints, but his teammate to the left of him had a day to forget.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive line is the one group where you don’t want to have much change throughout the season, even if that change is deemed to be positive beforehand.

Despite gaining back a starter against the Saints on Sunday, the Bengals offensive line took a big sized step backwards in their 37-point defeat to the NFC’s current No. 2 seed, but not in the way that was expected.

Coming into the game, the Saints ranked first in run defense and near the bottom in pass defense. Yet, the Bengals ran for 110 yards on just 16 carries and failed to eclipse 174 net passing yards. The Saints were even missing one of their best defensive lineman in first-round pick Marcus Davenport, and the Saints pass rush still had their way for nearly the entire game. I decided to look at two potential cruxes that may’ve caused this unanticipated dichotomy.

Billy Price’s return to center was a solid one, but it came with some rust as well. A change in not one, but two starters seemed to have caused some miscommunication in pass protection from time to time, but New Orleans’ ability to pressure quarterback Andy Dalton was attributed more to a lack of cohesion amongst the Bengals pass protectors.

It started off well for Cincinnati’s front five, as running back Joe Mixon and the Bengals offense drove down the field with ease on their first drive of the game. This run was a great mix of blocking and play design.

Upon obliterating the front side defenders, the jet motion from wide receiver John Ross got the linebackers flowing against the grain and gave Mixon a prime opportunity to finesse through to the open field. Price clearly wanted to get after the 3-technique David Onyemata, but failing to get his hands on any second level defender almost knocked the play from great to good. Luckily, the pre-snap deception schemed Mixon some extra yards regardless.

I still will never get tired talking about reach blocks against front-side shaded nose tackles. I was especially excited to see it from Price because it was an issue at Ohio State, and also during the preseason. Clearly Price has been working on it while he was recovering from his foot injury, and even though the run went for no yardage, the work Price does here is commendable. However...

That first play repeated itself later on in the game and the Bengals were hurt by it. We can appreciate Price’s willingness to look for work when he has no defender to work against at the snap, but he’s gotta know he’s responsible for keeping the A-gap clean — it is the designed point of attack after all.

All Price has to do is quickly read that the 3-technique is staying in his lane, and move up the the linebacker. He already has a clear path, he’s just gotta recognize the situation better next time.

Price’s comeback was obviously a storyline that people had interest in, but my main takeaway from the game was how much left guard Clint Boling got abused in pass protection against the Saints interior defensive line. On this play, the Bengals don’t have any attractive options downfield for Dalton to throw to, and the Saints send a delayed blitz attacking the B-gap between Boling and Price.

This could’ve been an example of the communication that Price and Boling need to re-establish after Price missed all that time due to injury. This next play on the other hand, well, it had nothing to do with miscommunication.

I’ll admit it, this was bittersweet to watch over and over again. I’m such a big Sheldon Rankins fan, who is the pass-rusher that completely rocked back Boling for the Saints’ fourth sack of the game. His process is what makes this bull rush go from okay to incredible, and even a seasoned vet in Boling sometimes takes the L. Talent will always win out, and Rankins has talent in spades.

To be fair to Boling, he could also still be not quite 100 percent after exiting the previous game against the Buccaneers with a back injury. Regardless, Boling was out there, and the team expects better out of him.

At the risk of dwelling too much on a game so embarrassingly lopsided, we’ll just stop it right here and start moving on to the next week. In specifics, the Bengals playing the Ravens this upcoming Sunday will be such a prime opportunity for the defensive line to get back on track. This will be the first time Marvin Lewis is calling the plays for the defensive in well over a decade, and he’ll do it against the team he was an acclaimed defensive coordinator for.

He may also be game-planning to stop an electric rookie quarterback in Lamar Jackson, who could be making his first start of his career depending on starting quarterback Joe Flacco’s health. How Lewis is able to put the pressure on either quarterback will be huge in deciding if the Bengals will be staying above .500 by this time next week.