The more things change, the more they stay the same. So if switch those around, it has to be correct as well, right?
After another offseason of major turnover, the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line has stayed the course through the first quarter of the season. The group wasn’t finalized, or fully healthy, up until the last week of August. Three separate free agents had to adjust playing in a new scheme and environment, and a rookie was thrown into the fray like a baby bird being dropped out of his mother’s nest.
We should’ve known it was going to be ugly to start.
It wasn’t just communication errors. In fact, individual losses were what led to the vast majority of pressures and sacks in the first two weeks of the season. Left tackle Jonah Williams, left guard Cordell Volson, and right tackle La’el Collins combined to allow 30 pressures and seven sacks during the team’s 0-2 start. Defenses weren’t blitzing or sending an abundance of exotic pressure looks, pass rushers were simply winning early and often.
In year’s past, whether it be from injury or poor performance, the Bengals’ offensive line would undergo early changes. A new starter here, an emergency replacement there, and no sense of continuity would be found. Most, if not all the switches, were justified. There’s not much choice in the matter when the original starter gets injured or is simply that bad.
You can point to every year going back to 2017 for clear examples of this. The Week 1 o-line from those seasons would not last until Week 4. 2016 was close, but an injury to left guard Clint Boling in Week 4 took it out of the running. 2015 had to be the last true time, right? Nope. Not even that group had 100% participation through the first four weeks.
The 2022 Bengals offensive line is the first o-line in Cincinnati to have all five starters play 100% of the offense’s snaps in the first four weeks since 2012. Dennis Roland was still reporting in as an eligible receiver back then.
The more things stay the same, the more they change? Maybe the change is the performance.
These last two games have provided hope for this o-line as a whole. If you go by Pro Football Focus grades, there’s still much more room to improve. Williams possesses the group’s highest pass-blocking grade of just 69.7 from their two-game win streak, and his pass-blocking efficiency of 96.0 from the same timespan ranks 63rd out of 88 qualifying tackles. You also still have Collins ending up on the ground too much, and Volson’s inexperience is still hindering him a bit, but the overall progress has become apparent.
When it comes to pressures, there have been just 22 allowed against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. The number was 52 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. Joe Burrow’s average time to throw actually increased from 2.55 to 2.57 when comparing both groups of games, so this is not just Burrow getting the ball out quicker.
A week ago, the unit gave Burrow what he claimed to be the most time he had in the pocket since he’s been in the NFL. Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers last season probably takes the cake on that, but the guy’s been sacked 473 times in three years, so we’ll take his word for it.
So what plays were in Burrow’s mind when he praised his protection in front of a national audience? These stood out on film: