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Bengals Weekly Lineman: La’el Collins, B.J. Hill answering the call to smashmouth

One player creates the running lanes, the other clogs them.

Kansas City Chiefs v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The rebirth of the running game became a pivotal storyline early in the NFL season. According to what Mike Tanier wrote last month for the New York Times, teams were averaging the highest per game rushing yardage since 1987, and the highest yards per carry rate in league history through Week 10.

But surely in a game featuring Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, handing the ball off would take a backseat, right?


The Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs combined for 51 total rushes on Sunday night. Each team gave the ball to their running backs 22 times, and aside from two failed rushes from the Bengals on third and fourth down, they each generated a net positive EPA per rush when doing so.

Had this game been scheduled for earlier in the year, the Bengals wouldn’t have been able to keep up. They ranked 32nd in rush success rate and 31st in EPA per rush through the first four weeks. Their resurgence in this area since October has been well documented, but an uptick in volume has also been apparent since the debacle on Halloween against the Cleveland Browns. Cincinnati is 11th in total rushes and 12th in rushing percentage since calling just 10 run plays in the Week 8 loss.

You can have confidence running the ball when players like La’el Collins are leading the way.

While Collins’ pass protection has been more of a roller coaster for the year, moving defenders off the line has gotten progressively better for the right tackle. In the Bengals’ last four games, he sports the sixth-highest run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus for all starting tackles, and the 11th-highest out of all starting offensive linemen.

Collins continued that progression on Sunday. Check out some of his best reps here:

Collins and the line came out the gate firing, much like the rushing attack for Kansas City. It was Mahomes’ struggles that put them behind the eight ball. In the first half, Mahomes averaged a measly 5.3 yards for his 14 passes while Jerick McKinnon and Isiah Pacheco combined to average 6.9 yards for their 11 rushes.

Kudos to the visiting offensive line for this. Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith might be the league’s best center-right guard duo under the age of 25, and even their tight ends Noah Gray and Travis Kelce were getting after it. As a result, most of the Bengals’ defense had a rough day defending the run, including the likes of Josh Tupou and DJ Reader.

It wasn’t until B.J. Hill took command that the Bengals stood their ground.

Six of the Chiefs’ first 10 runs produced positive EPA outcomes. The three that didn’t were stopped by Hill. Check those plays out here: