As Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack takes his guys into Sunday's AFC title game in Kansas City (6:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), they take with them a mighty lesson from last Sunday's 27-10 AFC Divisional win in Buffalo.
With three new starting offensive linemen, the Bengals not only bullied the Bills with 172 rushing yards, but they threw a one-hitter at the experts. Per Pro Football Focus, that's how many times quarterback Joe Burrow got hit by a Bills defense that was supposed to dominate the newcomers.
"That's the story of the NFL," Pollack said Wednesday. "They want drama. We're in the world of 24-hour news cycle, drama, reality TV. All this garbage that promotes all that. But it gets the ratings, it gets the eyeballs and that's all good for the league from a business perspective. But for the team, you have to tune out the noise. It's all garbage, it's crap. You've got to tune it out, stay focused and all that matters is the men in the locker room.
"And our guys took that message this week and did an outstanding job. I'm really proud of them."
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has underlined his belief that it's a six-month story, not a one-week splash and pointed to the evolution of the young tackles, Jackson Carman and Hakeem Adeniji, as they are being developed by Pollack and assistant line coach Derek Frazier.
"The sky wasn't falling on us after week one and two," said Pollack of the 0-2 start with 13 sacks. "It's a process. It's a long season. The guys buy into that. It starts with the head coach as it permeates into my room as an extension of that. The guys do a great job of that. Just put your nose down and work. It's comical to me. You can go back and look what the prognosticators and the experts thought about the league in September. No one goes to the Super Bowl in September. Moral of the story. Just keep your head down and work. Be in the moment."
CARMAN CLIMB: Such as Carman, the 2021 second-round pick, the former Clemson left tackle who lost the right guard job a few times as a rookie before rookie Cordell Volson beat him out this past training camp for the left guard job.
When Carman had such a good game in his first NFL start at tackle on his 23rd birthday last Sunday, it was a reminder just how young he was when he came into the league and how high his ceiling is.
And Pollack loves how he's drowned out the naysayers. When he made the move to Volson before the opener, Pollack did some messaging himself to Carman.
"I told him, 'Your story is not written yet,'" Pollack said. "'You're young. You're still learning. I want you to start focusing on that tackle spot.' And he's quietly been doing that. He's kept his mouth his shut. He's grinded and it showed where he's at the other night. I'm really proud of him. He's taken such a great approach like a pro this year to tune out the noise."
Carman, the product of the Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield, became a pro in his hometown at the ripe old age of 21. Throw in changing positions and sides …
"He was a high draft pick based on his god-given athleticism, his movement and his talents," Pollack said. "He was pushed into a position of need as a rookie. I don't care who you are. If you play guard in college, to make that jump in the NFL it's going to be hard. It was a position of need. He was a top pick. So we're going to put him there and give him every chance to have success."
CALLY ON LOU: If anyone knows how well Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is calling the shots, it's Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. He's already seen for four years what the nation is now realizing. In six playoff games in the last 11 months, the Bengals have allowed 18 points per game.
"I know I wouldn't want to play against Lou," Callahan said. "That's just how he has functioned over the last couple years and our guys are so smart and done such a good job with what he's asking them to do and the position he is putting them in, it makes life pretty difficult. They don't give anything easy to you which is a pretty big compliment for a defensive coach."
They've allowed more than 20 twice. To these Chiefs in last year's AFC title game, when they stoned quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the low red zone as regulation ran out to force overtime in a 27-24 win, and to the Rams two weeks later in a Super Bowl Matthew Stafford didn't get to 23 points until finding Cooper Kupp for a touchdown with about 70 seconds left.
"If you bring a look and it's a zero pressure, you have to honor it because it looks like the zero pressure they brought two weeks ago," Callahan said. "They show the same look and drop eight Two Tampa, they drop out and play some version of a single-high coverage. Then from the same look they will bring a different blitz but not zero, so you have to do so much mental work against teams like that."
HAKEEM HEIGHTS: Carman isn't the only college tackle asked to play guard now back at his old spot of tackle. Right tackle Hakeem Adeniji, the starting Super Bowl right guard, made his third straight start at right tackle in place of the injured La'el Collins on Sunday and he seems more comfortable, too.
"Any time these guys play, I mean you're talking about thousands of reps and thousands of hours over the course at that spot in their college careers," Callahan said, "so it's always going to feel more comfortable for those guys just because they know what it feels like. There is something to that, I do think."
RUN GAME REDUX: The numbers say the run game came back out of nowhere in Buffalo after coming up with just 232 yards in the previous four games. But the Bengals say the "efficiency," has always been there when it comes to figuring in the run-pass options (RPOs).
"I thought it was really well-designed scheme by Frank. I think that was the first part of it," Callahan said of Sunday's onslaught. "Really nice job manipulating a defensive structure, finding ways to create space. And then I think our guys executed it well. We were physical. We blocked people, we sustained blocks. And it was just kind of a combination of all those things together. Backs ran well, broke tackles, did all the things that you want those guys to do, and allowed us to be really, really pretty good and probably one of our better outings on the ground against a good defense."
The yards after contact were ridiculous from the running backs. According to PFF, 66 of Mixon's 105 yards were after contact as were pretty much all of Samaje Perine's 33 yards.
REID OPTION: Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who last week joined Bill Belichick and Tom Landry as the only coaches to win 20 playoff games, is called "a master play-caller," by Callahan. KC no longer has Tyreek Hill, but Big Red's Xs and Os keep coming.
"You always watch their tape every year, you watch what they do," Callahan said. "Some of the things they do, nobody else can do because of the guy pulling the trigger, and especially when they had Tyreek there, they did some wild stuff that most people can't replicate. They're always a fun tape to study in the offseason because they've got such good creativity and they put guys in such cool positions to make plays. They're at the top of the game of all of that stuff."