There’s no two ways about it, the Bengals are banged up. With 14(!!!) players on injured reserve through 13 weeks (not counting A.J. Green whom is out for the year), no other team in the NFL has more. Because of this unfortunate fact, the Bengals have had to get creative with their depth, specifically with their trench units.
For starters, they went to the free agent market to find role players. They picked up defensive tackles Christian Ringo and Niles Scott to shore up the defensive line following both Adolphus Washington and Josh Tupou suffering season-ending injuries. On the offensive line, they were able to bring back Andre Smith into the fold after he was waived by the Cardinals last week and even activated him over Cedric Ogbuehi.
Smith was brought in because Cordy Glenn has been out with a back injury and Jake Fisher was one of the 14th player to go on injured reserve this season. Having joined the team this past Thursday, it was unlikely Smith would be playing on Sunday’s game against the Broncos and that remained true throughout the Bengals’ 24-10 loss at home. But they did make some major changes on the left side of the line regardless.
For the second year in a row, left guard Clint Boling was kicked out to left tackle to compensate for the starter being injured. Boling did this twice last year to end the season, and this game was his first time back there and his third career game at the position. Next to him at left guard wasn’t Boling’s backup at that position in Christian Westerman, but Trey Hopkins, who has now played all three interior positions this season.
The rest of the line looked the same as it’s been since Billy Price’s return to center. Regardless, the issues protecting quarterback Jeff Driskel in his first start spanned all over the line and all throughout the game whenever Driskel dropped back to pass and had to hold onto the ball for more than three seconds.
Like I said, no one was spared.
Price specifically played a bad game and looked clueless at times in pass protection, which I suppose was a theme for the entire line. Often times they let the defender dictate the rep and were completely passive in their sets. This goes against the propaganda that was echoed through the halls of Paul Brown Stadium upon offensive line coach Frank Pollack’s arrival this offseason, but sure enough, they played timid against a far more superior defensive line.
Because of this, nearly everyone from superstar edge-rusher Von Miller to even nose tackle Domata Peko went home with numerous quality wins and made Driskel’s day far more tougher than it had to be. The run blocking wasn’t nearly as big of an issue, but of course Bill Lazor didn’t incorporate it nearly enough as he should’ve, as it’s been like that for as long as he’s been an offensive coordinator anywhere. It’s true: running the ball on average doesn’t impact the game as much as the pass, but when you have a backup quarterback in, EPA benefits probably need to be sacrificed for the greater good.
Speaking of run games, the Broncos have a pretty good one, and they torched the Bengals defense as the game lingered towards the end. When the game was still competitive, the new duo of defensive tackles each made an impressive run stop against the dominant Phillip Lindsay at running back, while the tandem of young edge rushers in Sam Hubbard and Jordan Willis each received a sack courtesy of the work done by Geno Atkins:
For as bad as the Bengals defense has been this year, we’re going to look back at the group and realize that defensive tackle wasn’t one of the problems. Atkins is obviously elite and Billings has eventually come into his own as a solid nose tackle. Behind them now, the depth has looked promising. Scott and Ringo haven’t played much but the look aggressive and aware in their run fits, which is also promising to see from younger players.
Even before Scott and Ringo joined the team on such desperate notice, Ryan Glasgow looked like he was turning a corner before he tore his ACL in Week 3, and Adolphus Washington was doing a decent job at salvaging his young career after the team signed him to replace Glasgow. Washington was another aforementioned member of the current militia the Bengals have on injured reserve.
On the edge, it’s a different story. Hubbard now has four sacks on the year, but he and Willis still lack quality pass-rushing moves and both of their sacks weren’t exactly earned for their efforts. Atkins’ impact hasn’t been noticed on the box score, but make no mistake, plays like those two sacks are exactly why he remains invaluable even in his ninth year.
Now, Cincinnati’s attention is centered on the 9-3 Super Chargers of Los Angeles, as the Bengals will be playing in (or in this case right next to) the City of Angels for the first time since 1990. The Chargers recently had edge-rusher Joey Bosa return to the field, and the third-year stud has three sacks in his first three games back — all coming from the left edge of the defense.
It’s safe to say the Bengals — specifically Bobby Hart’s — troubles at protecting Driskel are only just beginning.