Heading into the offseason, following the 2020 NFL season, the Bengals had 1 clear objective - fix the offensive line to protect Joe Burrow.
Burrow finished the 2020 season on IR due to an injury from poor offensive line protection. Not only that, but before the injury Burrow ranked 3rd in the number of times sacked per game (3.2 sacks per game) and ranked in the top 10 of quarterbacks for sacks taken per passing play (7.3%).
Outside of an injury-prone Jonah Williams, the offensive line was manned by a collection of players ranking from mediocre to terrible, including: Trey Hopkins, Billy Price, Bobby Hart, Michael Jordan, Quinton Spain, Xavier Sua-Filo, and Fred Johnson.
Fixing the offensive line could come by either the draft (P Sewell, R Slater, etc.) or by free agency (J Thuney, C Linsey, etc.) or both free agency and the draft.
So what did the Bengals do to address this most pressing offseason need?
1) COACHING: They hired a new offensive line coach. Frank Pollack is a huge upgrade over Jim Turner, but would that be enough? Did they also need good players, or just bad players with good coaching? Only time would tell.
2) FREE AGENCY: They passed on the first wave of pricier free agents (saving $ for Jessie Bates, we may have convinced ourselves), and opted to sign RT Riley Rieff, who had been released. Rieff was an upgrade over Bobby Hart, but was only signed to a 1-year deal, and is a good, not great option.
3) DRAFT: They passed on the first tier of offensive line prospects, Sewell, Slater, Dickerson, Jenkins, Darrisaw, Little. And they passed on many of the next tier of offensive line prospects, Vera-Tucker, Leatherwood, Eichenberg, Humphrey, Cosmi. They selected Jackson Carman in the middle of round 2, and added some late round fliers with D’Ante Smith and Trey Hill.
So, was this enough to address the offensive line, and protect Joe Burrow? Did the Bengals accomplish this #1 top priority from the 2020 offseason?
If Week 1 was any indication, the answer is clearly NO.
Burrow emerged from the first week of football as the league’s leader in % of passing plays being sacked (15.6%) which was double his sack rate from 2020.
After the 3rd time Burrow was sacked, he came up hobbled, and the Bengals drastically altered their offensive play calling to mask their inability to protect him. Before the sack, the Bengals had passed on 62% of their offensive plays (23 of 37), but after the sack, they only attempted passes on 32% of plays (10 of 31). Even with the reduce passing plays, Burrow was still sacked 2 more times (only 10 pass plays).
Granted 1 week is not sufficient to make any conclusive ruling on the 2021 offensive line, but the early returns are troubling. So, with free agency and the draft behind them, what can they do at this point?
Plug Jackson Carman or D'Ante Smith into the starting lineup, and hope that helps? Stop throwing the ball? Make a trade? Use more blockers on passing plays? Keep using the same lineup and hope something magically fixes itself?