BY GEOFF HOBSON
Sunday is a big day for the Bengals offensive line.
Not only are they playing a Baltimore front seven Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander considers the NFL's best in the last ten years, but left tackle Rod Jones makes his first start since getting benched two weeks ago with John Jackson shelved by a pulled hamstring.
And not only that, but linemen like right guard Mike Goff realize the Sept. 24 debacle in which the Bengals lost, 37-0, was the last game before Dick LeBeau became head coach.
Cincinnati rushed for just four yards that day, and watched Bengals quarterback Akili Smith get knocked out cold on the sixth play of the game when the line failed to pick up a stunt up the middle.
Goff doesn't think anything like that will happen again. He thinks the play in which end Rob Burnett followed tackle Sam Adams past Goff and smack underneath Smith's chin symbolized how the Bengals failed to finish their plays during the first three games of the season.
"I thought Adams was offsides and (right tackle Anderson) Willie thought he was offsides," Goff said. "I guess we didn't even follow through because we thought the play was going to be called dead.
"Stupid me," Goff said. "I just kind of stopped and the play kept going and it was a stunt. He came around and that was the end of Akili's day."
Goff figures if the play got off normally, he and Anderson would have handled the stunt by passing each other their men with Goff taking Burnett and Anderson taking Adams.
"Coach LeBeau has stressed since he's taken over that not every play is going to be perfect," Goff said. "But he wants us to finish every play and that's also helped this offensive line and this team. That play was a prime example."
Goff now has high regard for Adams' size (6-3, 330), savvy, and his ability to time his move with the snap of the ball.
The Bengals, suddenly the NFL's leading rushing team, insist this isn't the club that could get running back Corey Dillon just nine yards on 12 carries in Baltimore.
Jones is happy to playing under these circumstances, with Dillon getting eight yards per carry the past two games. That should help Jones in his matchup with Ravens sack ace Michael McCrary. If they can run the ball halfway like that against a Baltimore defense ranked first in total and rushing. . .
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"I welcome the change. We were throwing the ball a lot," Jones said. "But that helps any offensive line, not just ours."
McCrary came into this season with the most NFL sacks since Nov. 10, 1996 (46.5), but has just 2.5 this season.
Still, in the 22-0 win over the Bengals last Dec. 26, when Jones got hurt in the first half, McCrary finished with three sacks. In the two games a healthy Jones has faced McCrary, Jones has blanked him.
"He's athletic, a slasher, a guy who tries to get you off balance," Jones said. "He's a guy that just naturally makes plays."
The 6-4, 330-pound Jones is a solid run blocker, but Jackson replaced him two weeks ago because of his failure to keep speed rushers off Smith's blind-side. Still, Jones has 60 pounds on McCrary.
"I don't know what it would do to a lesser man," said Jones of the benching. "To me, nothing. It just goes back to going out and playing, having fun and not trying to do something I'm not capable of doing. I had a chance to re-focus and think about playing under control.