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Bengals Weekly Lineman: Bengals fail to recover after Browns set the tone

The Bengals came home from Cleveland with a black eye for Christmas.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Getting struck in the face is an unpleasant thing. Sure, how hard your hit doesn’t matter as much as how many hits it takes to stop you, but that initial strike can be damn painful, and it can determine how the rest of the fight goes.

The Bengals got socked by the Browns in the opening minutes of their latest matchup. More importantly, they allowed it to determine how the rest of the game (when it mattered) went.

Even if it’s been evident by less than a full season, the discrepancies between the Bengals and Browns should be pretty obvious by now, as the team that hasn’t had stability at quarterback or head coach at the very least has one and another that works well with him. The talent that the Browns have been compiling for a couple years now has been lying dormant behind the inadequate figures that their leaders have been. Now that they have competency in the spots that matter the most, the rest of the team is starting to shine accordingly.

Cleveland’s front seven has been one of their strengths from the moment they acquired defensive end Myles Garrett and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi via the 2017 NFL Draft. Both of them (especially Garrett) had great games along with the rest of the Browns’ defensive line, and their opposition in the form of the Bengals’ offensive line appeared lost and out-matched from the very first snaps of the game.

Memories of watching Billy Price’s 2017 college tape flashed through my mind when watching the first play. At least when playing center, Price was a known waist bender when run blocking at Ohio State — and while it wasn’t a prevalent issue — it popped up enough for it to be listed as a potential problem. On this play it was, and fortunately Joe Mixon was able to manage.

You can’t teach the aggressiveness Price displays play in play out, but that lunging needs to be ironed out quickly before it becomes a permanent fixture like it was for former center Russell Bodine.

On the very next play, Garrett shows off that raw power and length he can unleash on the inside against Clint Boling and stuffs the play all by himself. That lead to a third-and-medium that the Bengals didn’t convert and a fourth down that they did convert. Unfortunately, that lead to this sequence:

Price was already an underdog when matched up Ogunjobi, so it didn’t help when Alex Redmond managed to make things worse by his own doing. Off the snap, Price manages to get in good position to leverage himself against Ogunjobi, but he can’t get left arm inside and Ogunjobi stacks him cleanly. Meanwhile, Instead of moving up to the linebacker, Redmond essentially makes sure that Ogunjobi gets to the gap Mixon cuts into and he’s there for the stop.

This minimal gain sets up another third-and-medium and Jeff Driskel tries to convert through the air, but he’s given minimal time to do so. The Browns disguise their pressure package wonderfully and both Price and Redmond are befuddled by design. A free rusher in the form of linebacker Joe Schobert sprints through the a-gap and Driskel is strip-sacked, forcing the Bengals to punt the ball away mere moments after they successfully faked a punt for a first down.

On the next possession for the Bengals’ offense, all hope seemed lost.

Redmond first completely whiffs on a simple reach block and allows former Bengal Chris Smith a free lane to stuff Mixon in the backfield. If Smith used a quick push-pull move after Redmond engaged his outside shoulder following a competent reach step, this wouldn’t be nearly as embarrassing. The fact of the matter is, Redmond doesn’t appear to know what first steps he needs to be doing on this play, and in late December, that’s bad.

That play is followed by a third-and-long which the Bengals try to convert in the passing game again, and the protection centering around Redmond falls a part once again. The Browns once again deploy a zone blitz and the six-man protection from the Bengals fail to pick it up properly. Driskel somehow escapes and targets a contested Cody Core on the run. The ball falls incomplete and the Bengals are forced to punt again.

The Browns scored the game’s first points 13 plays later on a drive that lasted over seven minutes of game time. From then on, the Browns didn’t look back and despite a fluky comeback-effort from the Bengals, they played the part of the superior team on the field after being hailed the 10-point favorite before the opening kickoff.

You could sense the difference in the way the Browns’ defensive line handled the Bengals’ blockers and vice versa represented the lop-sidedness in the game, and it began from the very start despite the Bengals’ defense forcing a punt from the Browns’ offense five plays into the game.

In regards to Price and Redmond’s issues, a certain lack of coaching could be a factor, but these specific concerns don’t just appear out of nowhere. Redmond was, quite simply, never good and his improvement upon just playing more would be marginal. He has shown flashes throughout the season, but he’ll always remain wildly inconsistent relative to his peers.

It’s not terribly difficult to get solid guard play nowadays, but Redmond just ain’t it, and he never was, so there’s no need to beat this dead horse anymore than we’ve done.

Price shows a base-level of talent that can be molded, but his tendencies to dip his head and general lack of length and core strength are issues that can not so easily be fixed. In the NFL, there’s so little time now for offensive line coaches to dedicate time towards teaching basic techniques when implementing scheme and revolving it around the playbook is so crucial. That’s why projects working out are so rare at all three positions, but the truly special ones find a way.

There’s no sense in declaring Price isn’t capable of improving right now, but based on what we (or at least some of us) knew going into the season about him, this will be a “prove it” situation more than anything.

Speaking of prove it situations, we’re about to find out if the Bengals can get back up and beat their long-time bullies in the Steelers this Sunday. If they were to lose, they’ll finish with just six wins, with only one coming from within the division. The last time they went 1-5 in the division was in 2008, when they finished 4-11-1.

Marvin Lewis and his crew may be coming back no matter what, but I doubt he’ll want to begin the offseason with that taste in his mouth.