The Bengals' talented offensive line is showing its strengths in measurable ways.
The big boys in the trenches are keeping quarterback Andy Dalton upright as Cincinnati moves out of the bye week with a 6-0 record.
The Bengals did not allow Dalton to be sacked last week at Buffalo, their fourth game of the season with none allowed.
“I didn’t feel like I got hit at all the whole game,” Dalton said. “Great job by my guys.”
For the season, the Bengals have allowed only six sacks, second-fewest in the NFL behind the Jets, who have allowed two. Cincinnati’s only games with sacks allowed have been Sept. 27 at Baltimore (two) and Oct. 11 vs. Seattle (four).
The Bengals are on an early pace to allow 16 sacks for the season, which would beat the club record of 17, set in 2007.
Many factors go into effective pass protection, and the contributions of players like H-back Ryan Hewitt, halfback Giovani Bernard and tight end Tyler Eifert may sometimes go undervalued. But, the core of pass protection is the offensive line, which is getting the job done not only with talent, but with the way they work together.
“Chemistry? I’m not sure I can describe it, but I just know we have it,” says offensive line coach Paul Alexander. “You want to sign guys up to your team that are natural, tough, selfless guys. I think if you get enough guys like that together, eventually they’ll mold together. They have to be smart. Our meetings are more like seminars. We kind of watch the film and throw it around and bounce ideas. You can only do that with smart guys.”
Team captain Andrew Whitworth has been Cincinnati’s primary starting left tackle since 2009. Andre Smith has been his right tackle bookend since 2011. Clint Boling has been the starting left guard since 2011, and Kevin Zeitler has been at right guard since 2012. The only relative newcomer in the starting five is center Russell Bodine, who’s starting for his second season.
There is plenty of depth behind them.
Eric Winston is a veteran reserve (121 career NFL starts) who joined the Bengals last season, and started the last four games and the Wild Card playoff at right tackle, with Smith out due to injury. Athletic rookie tackle/guard Jake Fisher has contributed as the big tight end in extra-blocker formations. His 31-yard reception on Sept. 20 vs. San Diego was the longest by an NFL offensive lineman since 1988. Second-year pro T.J. Johnson backs up Bodine at center.
Head coach Marvin Lewis says the starting line’s chemistry is visually apparent in position meetings.
“They sit in meetings the way they line up,” Lewis says. “The center sits there in the middle, and then the right guard, the right tackle, the left guard, the left tackle — all in their places. That’s the way they sit, that’s the way they do things, because they always have to see things the same way.
“When you have guys who need to work in conjunction with each other, the chemistry is not underrated. It’s part of it. It’s very, very important. We’ve got a good group, and a strong, strong foundation in that room and in this building.”