Line shifts

Posted Dec 6, 2009

Posted: 1:15 p.m.

One of the ways the Bengals have tipped the AFC North balance of power is using an unbalanced offensive line frequently enough to put defenses back on their heels and give offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski more formations to deke defenses.

They’ve done it a bunch of different ways, but it’s been a consistent component of a revived running game ranked seventh in the NFL heading into Sunday’s game against Detroit even though they use it, at most, 10 times a game. Primarily, the Bengals have exchanged left tackle Andrew Whitworth and the tight end so that the 335-pound Whitworth is working next to the 350-pound Dennis Roland at right tackle, working next to 340-pound right guard Bobbie Williams, working next to 310-poud center Kyle Cook.

The Bengals basically use to it to run the ball, but they’ve thrown just enough off of it that defenses are not quite sure what is going to happen when they start putting linemen on a people-mover worthy of any airport. When the line gets the game plan on Wednesday morning, it’s not exactly just three running plays up the middle.

“It’s like a little surprise when you open the playbook and see what they’ve conjured up,” Roland said. “It’s exciting. It’s new. I like it. I think sometimes it puts (defenses) in a bad position. They’re not sure what we’re doing to do out of it.”

Not even the refs are quite sure what the Bengals are doing. Early in the Cleveland game last week they called wide receiver Chad Ochocinco for being in an illegal formation, but then realized the guy they thought was lined up off the line was fullback Jeremi Johnson. But actually, the Bengals were legal, just in different spots, and the refs agreed they had made a mistake once the coaches showed them the still photos.

The Browns certainly could not have been prepared for the 6-9 Roland lumbering in motion from right to left on two of the snaps. Bratkowski and offensive line coach Paul Alexander had been toying with that for a couple of weeks and when they finally saw it replayed Monday morning they had to smile.

“Well,” Alexander said. “We’ve got it on tape now.”

On an offense teeming with an overall No. 1 pick in Carson Palmer, a No. 4 pick in Cedric Benson, and a five-time Pro Bowler in The Ocho, the mild-mannered, soft-spoken Roland has become the X-factor. He has been cut five times since coming out of Georgia undrafted in 2006, but he has rock-ribbed technique and the quick football mind belonging to the son of a college coach.

In fact, Alexander says this line gets as much dumped on them in a Wednesday game plan as any unit he’s ever had because he thinks it may be the smartest group he’s ever had and Roland is near the top of the list. He has also lined up in the backfield in front of the running back at times before unleashing his ample run-blocking abilities.

But he loves going in motion.

“It gives me a head start on the cadence,” Roland said. “So I can get the power of momentum before the ball is snapped.”

The clue most of the time that the Bengals are going unbalanced is that Roland is announced as an eligible receiver. He’s never caught a pass in a game, but he’s a former basketball player and insists that he can. Don’t you think they’d like to get that on tape?

“You’ve got to make sure you get the situation set,” he said. “Make sure you back the receiver off (the line). It takes study. It’s like any other position. You’ve got to study the technique.”

Maybe the guy least affected is Cook. But he sees the impact it has on the defense.

“It’s another formation we can use. It gives us a chance to different things, especially with a guy like Roland,” Cook said. “It really doesn’t affect me. I know on a given formation where each guy is supposed to be. It’s not so much who’s over there, but what’s over there, a tackle or tight end. It changes the defense. The defense decides whether they want to slide to it, or do what they want to do. It’s not that big of a deal. It gives us more options. It gives them another look they have to account for. But it’s really no big deal.”

Don’t tell that to the guy that sees Roland motioning to his side.

“I hope we keep doing it,” Roland said. “It’s fun.”


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