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Bengals Weekly Lineman: Moments from Jonah Williams’ “lights out” outing vs. Steelers

Cincinnati’s left tackle helped the offense put up 37 points in Pittsburgh.

NFL: NOV 20 Bengals at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the Cincinnati Bengals should be thankful that Jonah Williams—of all players—represents the most erratic component of their offensive line. It wasn’t too long ago he was the exact opposite.

Before actual investment was made into the Bengals’ offensive line, Williams established himself as the lone building block for a group that was maligned to no end. His technical abilities and spatial awareness, at the ages of 22 and 23 mind you, allowed him to be a productive left tackle while facing daunting gauntlets of the best edge rushers the NFL has to offer.

Starting 40+ games at Alabama forged Williams into a capable edge protector, but not a perfect one. In 2021, Williams’ first full regular season without injury, he allowed the second-most sacks out of every starting left tackle. He jumped into first place when you include the postseason. He was charged with 10 in the 20 games he played in.

He’s up nine in 10 games this season.

We can either accept this at face value, or provide the appropriate nuance that’s buried just under the surface.

Williams’ pass blocking grade of 62.7 this year ranks 47th out of 58 qualifying tackles. Of the 12 tackles with a grade equal or worse, he has the most individual games with a grade of 70 or higher, including three north of 80. It’s a close race at the top, but the list features other notable names, such as Williams’ bookend partner La’el Collins.

Quality Games From Bottom 12 Tackles

Player 70-79 >80 Total
Player 70-79 >80 Total
Jonah Williams 1 3 4
Elgton Jenkins 0 3 3
Terrence Steele 2 1 3
Cornelius Lucas 2 1 3
Isaiah Wynn 2 1 3
Mike McGlinchey 3 0 3
Spencer Brown 1 1 2
Dennis Daley 2 0 2
Matt Pryor 0 1 1
Andrew Wylie 1 0 1
Nicholas Petit-Frere 1 0 1
La'el Collins 1 0 1

There’s weight to the fact that a subpar overall grade is not due to a lack of success, but a lack of consistency. High variance is a dangerous quality for a blindside protector though, and the Bengals have had to live with it for over two months.

Since most people just care about the sacks, let’s look at where those came from. Four were allowed in the first three weeks, including two against Alex Highsmith and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1. Williams then started to hit his stride the following four weeks and surrendered just one sack against the New Orleans Saints in Week 6. This is even more interesting when you factor in that he dislocated his knee against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5.

Things were looking fine until Myles Garrett and the Cleveland Browns popped up in Week 8. Williams was the culprit of three Joe Burrow takedowns in that game, and they represent the bulk of the four sacks he’s allowed in the last three weeks.

The variance is simply out of this world, and while most of it can be attributed to the strength of his opposition, there are still clear examples to his ability against quality edge rushers.

Week 1 kicked all of this into motion. The offensive line was still gelling as a unit, but the shortcomings from Williams in that game had little to do with the chemistry he had yet established with his teammates. Highsmith straight up got the better of him that day, which is what made this past Sunday so important for him. How would he respond against a familiar foe?

The answer was a resounding positive for the Bengals. After the game, Burrow called Williams and Collins “lights out” for their protection against the Steelers’ formidable edge rushers/ Check out a few notable reps from Williams here: