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Bengals Offensive Line Crunches Just In Time

The Bengals offensive line came up big Sunday.
The Bengals offensive line came up big Sunday.

If you want to know how the Bengals beat the Texans Sunday in Houston, just look inside that last drive.

Right tackle Bobby Hart would call it perseverance.

"We had games where it hasn't been the best, but nobody sits there and points fingers," Hart said of his offensive line. "It's just always 'I could've done something better or we could've worked better together to get the job done.' I feel like just staying the course and persevering is the main thing. I'm going to keep saying it's perseverance. Not worrying about last week, just focusing on the now and just trying to get better as an individual and as a unit."

Hart could have been talking about his entire team.

Down, 31-27 with 6:15 left, the Bengals turned to two things they haven't had much of this season. The running game and an intact offensive line. Ten plays, 75 yards and 4:18 later the Bengals were up, 34-31, with 1:57 left and on their way to a 37-31 victory.

"That last touchdown, we knew it was crunch time. We knew what we had to do, said running back Samaje Perine after his 95-yard rushing day. "Those guys told in the huddle if you see the whole, hit it. We're going to do what we can, and the rest is up to you. That's been like that for the last two or three weeks. Those guys just going in constantly every day and working, working on technique just to get better and just to open up holes for us. They've done that."

The Bengals ran it seven times for 40 yards in the winning drive with Giovani Bernard starting the drive with four carries for 25 yards and Perine finishing it off with three carries for 15 more than included the winning three yarder knifing behind right guard Quinton Spain. Interspersed were huge throws from quarterback Brandon Allen to wide receivers Tee Higgins (11 yards) and Alex Erickson (20 yards) as they were able to turn to the line in the fourth quarter and win their first one-score game under Taylor in Perine's crunch time.

And, don't forget that other throw, a four-yard flip to Perine on one of those screens that tortured the Texans all day. That gave the Bengals a first down at the Houston 8 and kept the clock running to the two-minute warning.

That is one of those plays that Allen says makes head coach Zac Taylor's offense so effective because it can do so many things out of one look. On this play they lined up with double tight ends to the right, a formation they had used some in running it 31 times to that point, or to help the tackles chip J.J. Watt.

But instead of barreling off right tackle or chipping, the tight ends let the rush come in as Allen went the other side on the screen to Perine.

"That was the plan, to show them a lot of different things," Taylor said of the screen game. "They had some younger defensive ends over there on the left side that we wanted to see how they were going to play and what their style was. I thought our guys did a real good job executing that stage of the offense."

The screens were also a great tool to keep the Hall-of-Fame rusher Watt at bay as he tried to probe Hart and left tackle Fred Johnson for vulnerabilities. Watt couldn't find it on the second play of the drive, Allen's 11-yard dart to a leaping Higgins. Hart had help from guard Quinton Spain on Watt.

It was the fourth straight game Hart had lined up next to Spain, but the first time since Oct. 25 that the line as a whole had lined up in the same alignment for a second straight game.

"Just the cohesiveness and just playing together you get to build a bond and build off of," Hart said. "I feel like that really shows up on Sunday's when you're just playing next to the same person. Like I said, you get to talk without talking and you guys are in the same page. It shows up in the little things, d linemen not getting through for a tackle for loss because you're all are on the same page, you're all not going to the backer and things like that. I feel like that's the big thing.

"Just me and Spain just being able to really just talk without talking. Just being on the same page, B Blocks, the slide—him helping me, me helping him, it's just been good. Definitely that second week in a row being able to just work together really well."

 The Bengals attacked Watt in a variety of ways. On first down from the Texans 19, Watt lined up on the Bengals right edge and they sent Perine away from him to the left edge for seven yards.

They didn't shy away from running it at him, either, so he couldn't take advantage of his pursuit skills. On first-and-10 from the 50, Taylor put Bernard and Perine on the field together and with Perine lined up in the backfield, Allen sent Bernard in motion from right to left and handed it to him on a jet sweep. Watt's pursuit did him in and put him in no man's land as Bernard raced outside of him untouched for 11 yards on his way to a twin killing of 65 yards rushing and 66 receiving.

Those run plays helped out with Watt. After Bernard's jet sweep, Allen went play-action on a play where left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo pulled, a move often suggesting a run.

That gave Erickson just enough time to get behind the backers. It also allowed Allen to unleash it in the nick of time because Watt was matched up one-on-one with Fred Johnson. Johnson did well to slow down Watt on the outside, but he still ended up gnawing on Allen's shoulder pad as Erickson made the catch.

"He's a great player. I just wanted to take the fight to him a little bit," Hart said. "Not really just sit back and just let him use his power that he has and I just want to keep ascending as a player. Last week against T.J., (Watt) this week against the big bro—those are the challenges you look forward to in this league. To assert yourself in this league you've got to play good against the good players. I definitely was looking forward to the challenge."

As seamless as Allen's 371 yards passing were and as anticipated as the Bengals' 169 rush yards were against Houston's next-to-last run defense, the impact of the offensive line getting into sync seemed to give everybody a lift. O-line coaches Jim Turner and Ben Martin have been seeking this kind of consistency all year.

Suddenly, they have 321 rushing yards in the last two games after grinding for just 251 in the previous four.

"It feels good. Just us shuffling the way we been shuffling, all these different people," Hart said. "But each week Benny and Jim, they just to a great job of staying us the course. Just attacking everyday like it's the first day when we had all of our starters and stuff like that. They do a great job of just staying with it, man. You just know there's no difference from the first week to this week as far as preparation."

Maybe Perine expressed that emerging confidence best after his 146 combined yards included two rushing touchdowns.

"We knew either way whenever we got the ball back in our hands we were going to have to go down and score," Perine said. "So we just stayed calm, did what we've always done throughout this week of practice and just drove the ball down the field."