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Bengals Weekly Lineman: Disestablishing the run 101

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The offensive line already broke Andy Dalton this season, it’s next victim might’ve been Joe Mixon.

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Jacksonville Jaguars v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images

Through the first six weeks of the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars were a bottom-five defense in the following categories:

  • Rushing DVOA (11.3%)
  • Rushing Expected Points Contributed/Play (-0.085)
  • Rushing Success Rate (57%)

Despite having talented players like Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus, Yannick Ngakoue and Myles Jack, the Jaguars were a bad run0defending team based on per-play metrics. Granted, most of the damage done against them came in Week 5 against the Carolina Panthers when they allowed 285 rushing yards, which is the most any team has allowed in one game this season.

In case it needed to be said, the Bengals were neighboring the Jaguars in the league-wide rankings for these metrics. That 285-yard outing the Jaguars gave up almost seems inconsequential to the three 200-yard games the Bengals have allowed this season through Week 6. Regardless, Sunday’s game between Jacksonville and Cincinnati featured two teams who were struggling to stop the run.

So why did one team end up with 216 rushing yards and the other one with just 33?

Failing to ignore the atrocities committed in Week 4 aside, I feel like I’ve done my best to leave the Bengals’ pathetic excuse for an offensive line alone this season. Including the blood clot that ended Clint Boling’s career, they’ve dealt with four separate injuries that have kept projected starters out of the lineup. And once the regular season was well under way, their new starting left tackle, Andre Smith, started missing time. Next to him, they’ve played Billy Price just as much as Michael Jordan at left guard due to struggles from both of them.

The unit is a colossal mess, and we’ve known this. Oddly enough, they’ve been a passable pass blocking unit since they allowed eight sacks against the Steelers a few weeks back. Since then, their average pass blocking grade has jumped from 47.7 to 52.64 and have been charged with just three sacks compared to the 14 they allowed before Week 5. In return, the Bengals passing game has delivered a 22nd-ranked 4.65 Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt over the last three games. The struggles in the passing game aren’t being caused by the offensive line. The struggles in the running game? That’s a different story entirely.

Since we know quarterback pressures are, on average, caused by quarterback play more than offensive line play, and that blocking is more important to a running game than the talent of the running back, this shouldn’t be a revelation of any kind. The Bengals are the poster child for these two accepted correlations, and their Week 7 game put the incompetency of the running game on full display.

Together, Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard combined for two rushing yards on 14 carries. That’s almost impossible. Andy Dalton’s 33 rushing yards were technically 100% of the offense’s total rushing production since Alex Erickson ran for -2 yards on a failed reverse.

Obvious the line is the main culprit here, but the second play in the video is one the where my questions with Mixon began.

On Monday Night Football between the Jets and Patriots, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was mic’d up for the game. So when he proclaimed “I’m seeing ghosts”, the whole world heard it. Down 33-0, Darnold and the Jets were getting clobbered into the fourth quarter, and Darnold was having his worst game of the season.

Bengals fans have sensed something familiar with Dalton, and it’s fair to assume Mixon is a victim as well in his own right.

Even when there is an opportunity for Mixon to burst into space, he looks more inclined to brace for incoming contact and go north by any means necessary. As the AFC’s leading rusher from last year, Mixon was in the middle of the pact for starting running backs in terms of missed tackles and yards after contact, two areas where he’s been lackluster at best since he arrived in 2017. He’s even worse in those two categories this year.

The story with his running mate, Bernard, is even more disheartening. With a brand new two-year $10m extension under his belt, Bernard has just seven more yards (28) in the last six games as he had in Week 1 (21). His 1.8 yards per carry is 94th in the NFL. That’s out of 101 running backs.

Going back to Mixon, there’s very little confidence in the way he runs now, and that may be attributable to him dealing with the awful blocking in front of him for 95% of the game. But when he gets that 5% of space, the 10 other players need him to make the most of it. The offensive line is responsible for creating lanes and space to operate, and every time they’re successful, he needs to take advantage.

Of course, we are talking about a theoretical 5% occurrence, so the opportunities are limited. The cohesion of the offensive line is more important than individual talent that makes up the line, and aside from the secondary, no other position group comes close.

There’s almost negative cohesion with Cincinnati’s offensive line, and it’s wearing down both No. 28 and No. 25.