As it odd as it sounds, every offensive lineman that has started for the Cincinnati Bengals has impressed at least once this season. Fred Johnson hasn’t, to be fair, but he was never going to work at right guard.
Jonah Williams and Trey Hopkins have been stable blockers for the entire season. They’re the future building blocks in a position group that desperately needs them.
Xavier Su’a-Filo was playing pretty solid in the only three quarters he was healthy for during the season opener. His eventual replacement, Alex Redmond, had one of the best games of his career in his first start of the season back in Week 4.
The Bengals have had trouble with this unit because despite the relative talents of every one of their linemen, they rarely all play well during the same game.
Bobby Hart and Michael Jordan are usually the main culprits when it comes to that.
Let’s go back to Week 2, the first time the Bengals faced the Cleveland Browns this year. Hart didn’t have a terrible game per se, but Jordan was a complete liability in pass protection. Jordan was charged with five allowed pressures and was given a 38.3 pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. In my personal charting, I had Hart with more inferior reps than Jordan (eight to Jordan’s six) but most of Hart’s bad plays didn’t have a negative impact on the play.
In any given week, you can find individual moments of both players playing fine for one snap, but the end of the game typically leaves a bad taste in your mouth. We haven’t seen both of them put together great performances during the same game, until last Sunday.
During Week 7’s rematch against the Browns, Hart and Jordan each played the best games of their career. The fact that they both played so well on the same day is one level of wackiness, but with two of their best teammates leaving the game with injuries, it just added another level to the absurdity.
It’s only right that we highlight their performances in the same fashion of which we usually critique them.
In the past, any quality game that Hart has had came with a strength of schedule caveat. His level of play has almost always been dependent on how good or bad the opposing pass rushers were.
That wasn’t the case this time. Myles Garrett is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate and Olivier Vernon usually holds his own on the other side. Garrett and Vernon could hardly do anything against Hart in this game, who simply displayed technique he has never showcased before.
So for all the games for Hart to get injured, it of course HAD to be this one.
Durability has been Hart’s lone consistent strength with the Bengals. Since he trotted onto the field for the first time with the team in 2018, he has never missed a snap due to injury. 71 snaps into this past game, Hart was continuing his iron man streak when a Bengals player pancaked Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to the ground and took out Hart’s knee in the process.
That Bengals player was none other than Michael Jordan.
Hart immediately grabbed his left knee in agony as trainers came rushing onto the field to treat him. The cart was never brought out, so Hart left the field on his own two feet, but the damage was done.
Head coach Zac Taylor declared Hart out for next week’s game against the Tennessee Titans and who knows how long he’ll remain sidelined. If there was ever a time to believe Hart had finally turned a corner as a player, it was this week. Now we may have to wait a while to see if it continues.
The situation with Hart is a lot more murky than it is with Jordan. The Bengals have the former fourth-round pick under contract for two more years after this season and have shown as much faith in his as they’ve shown in Hart, and he’s getting paid a lot less. They truly believed he would show tremendous growth this season and this was the first true sign of that growth manifesting.
Jordan has the fortune of building off of Sunday’s showing, unlike Hart, and he’ll face one of his toughest opponents in Jeffery Simmons of the Titans. With three backup lineman set to play along with Redmond, Jordan will be the lone opening day starter on the offensive line on Sunday.
Things are going to get real pretty quickly, and the Bengals are hoping this week was the start of something great for their left guard.