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Bengals hope this line trending up

Posted Oct 11, 2017

Here’s the thing. When the Bengals pulled off their four biggest drives of Sunday’s 20-16 victory over the Bills, left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi lined up over Buffalo’s best pass rusher. And Jerry Hughes didn’t disrupt the two touchdowns, the field-goal drive that consumed the guts of the fourth quarter and the final clock-killing drive.

Cedric Ogbuehi (with T.J. Johnson) had a good day Sunday.

Here’s the thing.

When the Bengals pulled off their four biggest drives of Sunday’s 20-16 victory over the Bills, left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi lined up over Buffalo’s best pass rusher. And Jerry Hughes didn’t disrupt the two touchdowns, the field-goal drive that consumed the guts of the fourth quarter and the final clock-killing drive.

And that’s the frustrating thing for the Bengals. They see that Ogbuehi and his offensive line can perform at a high level, but they also have seen it perform at a low level for much of the first five games. But they came out of Sunday encouraged and maybe the biggest thing of all is that so did Ogbuehi.

“I think I’m getting better. There are still things I have to establish, but I think it’s trending up,” Ogbuehi said Tuesday before the Bengals dispersed for the bye week. “Everything helps. Every situation has helped. Going against a really good player in that situation helps. . Every play is a learning experience and I think every time I’m getting better.”

The Bengals must think so; too, because he had the most snaps Sunday in what has become a rather mystical tackle rotation. After having the fewest a week ago in Cleveland with 31, Ogbuehi had 51, Andre Smith 47, and Jake Fisher 36 against the Bills. This week offensive coordinator Bill Lazor politely declined to discuss  how he and offensive line coach Paul Alexander decide to put who where when among Ogbuehi at left, Fisher at right and Smith the nine-year vet swinging between both.

“I don’t want to give all that information away. Good question though,” Lazor said.

Here’s another question that may not be as good. Is the rotation set or are they still trying to find two set guys?

“It sounds good but I haven’t thought about that today. I’m sure that could happen. We evaluate them constantly. It probably makes even of greater importance to do constant evaluation because of how they’re all playing,” Lazor said, ““I think every week we grade them a little differently. It’s not always been in the same order. I just think we’ve got to be open minded about doing what it takes to win. And if it’s helping us play better and win, then we’ll do it.”

 One of the NFL’s consensus conclusions after the first five weeks is that the Bengals offensive line has performed less than average. The web site profootballfocus.com ranks it 24th with a pass-blocking efficiency of 74.4 with 59 pressures on 181 passes. The site ranks it last on the run with Bengals running backs averaging .42 yards before contact on all runs for the fewest in the league. After Ogbuehi and Fisher, their book-ends from the top two picks in the 2015 draft, struggled mightily in the first two games that claimed offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, they went to the rotation.

Since assuming the job a hectic five days, two games, and three field goals into the season, Lazor has steadied the ship and a big reason is he’s got talented guys like Ogbuehi playing with more confidence. Even though no player is enamored with a rotation.

“I think guys are just buying in,” Ogbuehi said. “Once you see things working you get more confident and guys start buying in more and get into a rhythm and just keep it going.”

That’s basically what Lazor tried to get done before delving more deeply into the Xs and Os during the bye week.

“I don’t think of it as them responding to me as much as I think right now they believe they can be good,” Lazor said. “And I think that’s a starting point. I think they believe in each other and maybe some of it has to do with what we’re doing or calling but I think more of it is, if they believe they can make it work, then that helps me not make as many bad calls. I think on the sideline it feels to me that they believe. I didn’t see anybody flinch.”

Ogbuehi doesn’t want to credit the rotation for turning things around for him, but he knows he’s playing to re-gain his full-time job.

“I can't say that. I think true helping is when you're playing. Every snap you learn. But you've got to do what you're told,” Ogbuehi said. “You've got to play well. You play well, you play more.”

It turns out that re-upping Smith after a one-year hiatus in Minnesota is the biggest free-agent signing of the offseason. The original idea was to make him the starting right guard, but when that didn’t take quickly and the kids struggled, the Bengals had the man who started at right tackle for six post-season teams.

Not to mention a burgeoning left tackle, where he has received rave reviews for pitching in after not playing there since the Alabama days. He made his first NFL start there in Cleveland Oct. 1 before starting at right tackle against the Bills as he and Ogbuehi cleared the pocket for quarterback Andy Dalton’s 77-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver A.J. Green on the first snap of the second series.

“Better late than never,” said Smith, who could have been talking about a couple of different topics. “It’s something I do every day in practice and the thing is taking it over into a game. Just to be able to get the opportunity (at left tackle) is probably the biggest thing about it.”

At 30 and Andrew Whitworth in Los Angeles, Smith and left guard Clint Boling are the linch-pins keeping it together and don’t mind being called mentors.

“He’s played a lot of football. He knows situational football. He knows a lot different aspects to it,” Ogbuehi said. “Whatever we can learn from him we just take it.”

The Mentor says it’s been a three-way street and he thinks Ogbuehi and Fisher are starting to get their feet under them.

“When they came off the field I tell them what I saw and when I come off the field they tell me,” Smith said. “I think we’re starting to gel and just at the right time.”

Profootballfocus.com ended up giving Hughes the game ball, which probably had the Bengals confused. He didn’t get the one sack the Bengals allowed and Ogbuehi held up well against a solid bull-rusher, the type of guy that has given him most of his problems. Hughes caused nowhere near the trouble he brought the Falcons the week before.

“I think he got me one time on a bull,” Ogbuehi said. “Besides that I think I did pretty well. Going against a good player like him, it helps. It helps for the future and helps your confidence. I think going forward it's going to keep trending up.”

The Bengals have appeared to stick to their philosophy of giving little help, if any, to their tackles. Which is fine with Ogbuehi. He’ll take a tight end next to him, but doesn’t like a running back behind him.

“It throws off your rhythm. It's all about a rhythm kind of thing,” Ogbuehi said. I like it when they're on the line but I don't like using chips. It's all about rhythm, what you prefer … I guess it matters who the rusher is.”

But Dalton did get bounced around way too much because they threw it 36 times into a good pass rush. You can’t have your QB limp to the finish. Which gets back to that tread-mill running game more than the pass protection.

“We've got to the get the holes bigger for the running backs. So that's going to be a big emphasis this week, the running game. I think next week is going to be the week that we get those guys going, the running backs,” Ogbuehi said. “Just being more physical. We've got to get after those guys. As an O-line, we've gotten a lot better passing wise. Now we just need to get better run blocking. One step at a time. We're making good strides. It's trending in a good direction as a group.”

Smith has been there when they’ve gone six postseasons all different ways.

“What do they say? If it’s not broke, don’t fix it?” asked Smith, who knows. “Who says tackles can’t rotate? Maybe we’ll start a new trend. We’re stacking wins. Let’s go from there.”

Ogbuehi knows he has to have more Sundays like the last one.

“I think consistency is the key.” Ogbuehi said. “Over the years we had Whit and they had Andre, so me Jake are still (inaudible) to the position. I think we're getting better. The past few weeks we've gotten better.” 

 

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