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Riley Reiff starting to live up to his billing

The Bengals’ right tackle has made a major impact for what was a major weakness for this franchise in recent years.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions
Riley Reiff
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Ask Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow who has made the biggest difference between last year’s 1-4-1 start and this year’s 4-2 start, and his answer might surprise you. Riley Reiff.

“He’s made a world of difference,” Burrow told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “He’s a veteran leader that doesn’t say a lot, but when he does, you listen. And he’s really locked down that side of the offensive line.”

Reiff was a free-agent acquisition from the Minnesota Vikings and took the place of the long-suffering Bobby Hart at right tackle. Reiff was a first-round selection of the Detroit Lions in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He joined the Vikings in 2017 and was released in March of this year.

The Bengals wasted little time in inking Reiff, who had played mostly left tackle in Minnesota, to a one-year, $7.5 million contract that included $5.5 million in guaranteed money, to anchor the right side of the Bengals’ offensive line.

Reiff met with Burrow the night before signing that contract, and came away equally impressed.

“I walked away . . . wanting to block for that guy,” Reiff said. “Really impressed with him. He looks great on film and he’s even better off the field. Just the way he conducts himself. Down to earth. Cincinnati type guy. Tough. Midwestern. Blue collar. Comes to work.”

And the results for both so far have been pretty good. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Detroit Lions, Pro Football Focus had Reiff allowing only two sacks over his first 294 snaps, with no penalties. He had earned an overall grade of 64.9, which ranked him 37th in the league.

Reiff surrendered another sack on Sunday, and was hit with a questionable holding call. But there is no questioning the difference he has made. And his consistent play has lifted the entire Bengals’ line.

A perfect example of Reiff’s effectiveness came in in the fourth game of the season in a come-from-behind victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday Night Football. Reiff provided a key block that helped spring tight end C.J. Uzomah and set up the Bengals for the game-winning field goal.

“He got out, maneuvered,” Burrow said. “They brought one guy inside, one guy outside and he slipped them and then got skinny and blocked the linebacker. And he was really the key block that allowed us to get 20 yards instead of five.”

It was actually 25 yards, but the point remains. Without Reiff’s block, the Bengals might have been facing a 3rd-and-8 at the Jacksonville 41-yard-line. And who knows what might have happened then.

Reiff allowed just two pressures in the loss to Green Bay last week and, with the exception of those two plays, turned in another solid performance on Sunday afternoon. If Reiff and Williams can continue their solid play, and if the Bengals can get some consistency at the right guard position, Burrow just might make it through the season. And the Bengals might continue to be in the hunt.