Skip to main content

Playoff Notebook: Bengals Mull "Messenger Guards"; Can't Duck Donald; Uzomah Could Go

Joe Burrow had some time Sunday.
Joe Burrow had some time Sunday.

At least the Bengals are going to have a little bit of history on their side in Super Bowl LVI when they face the NFL's best defensive player in Rams tackle Aaron Donald.

In winning Sunday's AFC championship game, the Bengals went with a rotation of sophomore Hakeem Adeniji and rookie Jackson Carman at right guard that offensive line coach Frank Pollack split down the middle with Carman getting 35 snaps and Adeniji 34 after getting the start.

Pollack said he informed them of the plan at the beginning of the week and told them they were now officially Messenger Guards. He then gave them the history lesson.

"You know who invented the Messenger Guards, right?" Pollack asked after the game. "Paul Brown. How great is that? So I told them they were Messenger Guards and both were going to play."

During his Pro Football Hall of Fame coaching career in Cleveland, Brown, founder of the Bengals, ran his guards off and on between plays so they could tell the quarterback the play he wanted.

They don't have to do that nowadays because of another Paul Brown innovation, the radio helmet, but Pollack was quite clearly sending a message. Adeniji has struggled, particularly in the nine-sack game in Tennessee last week, and he has enough confidence in Carman, the club's second-round draft pick, to put him in the biggest game of the year.

And it looked like Carman didn't disappoint late in a year he has fought inconsistency. He has started six games, but excluding the finale when all starters sat, Carman hasn't started since Halloween.

Yet the veteran of national title tilts at Clemson responded on Sunday under extreme pressure. His block on a screen pass sprung the Bengals' first touchdown, running back Samaje Perine's 41-yard touchdown.

Then Carman appeared on the game's final, winning drive, where the offensive line took over as running back Joe Mixon picked up 28 of his 88 yards on five carries. Also helping out as the sixth offensive lineman was another rookie, D'Ante Smith.

Pro Football Focus rated Carman and Adeniji as their two worst pass blockers, but had Carman rated the Bengals' second best lineman running the ball in grades that featured wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Ja'Marr Chase 1-2.

But the feeling is mutual. During Pollack's first tenure in Cincinnati in 2018, he went on record as saying he's not a fan of PFF and that he'll do his own grades, thank you very much. On Monday, head coach Zac Taylor gave no clues on what goes on at Super right guard.

"We'll continue to evaluate what the best plan is going forward," Taylor said. "They certainly had a tough matchup. They have some really good interior defensive linemen. We're going to face the same thing from the Rams."

MIGHTY AARON: Taylor coached with the Rams for two years, 2017-18, and he's a Donald devote and can easily run down why it's going to be tough sledding.

"You have a lot of D tackles that are physically strong and difficult that way and there are some that are quick. He's both and he's just got such an incredible mindset and football IQ as well," Taylor said. "And so you combine all that into one of the greatest players of all time. There's no question about that, you know, just watching the guys, watching him train, watching him practice, played against him. You know, had to play against him two years ago. Watched him play when I was a quarterback coach on the sideline and it's one of the few times you just watch a defensive tackle, your eyes are on him and nobody else."

Taylor is hopeful tight end C,J, Uzomah (knee) can come back in 12 days, calling the injury a sprained MCL that knocked him out of Sunday's game in the second quarter.

HERE COME STORYLINES: The intriguing thing about this Super Bowl, of course, is that just three years ago, Taylor was in the Super Bowl against the Patriots as the Rams quarterbacks coach under Sean McVay. It's crazy. The week of that Super Bowl, everyone knew he was going to be the Bengals head coach but he couldn't say anything because of tampering rules. No matter what, McVay has been a huge influence on him.

This now may be called the Coffee Shop Super Bowl

"The joke is always if had a cup of coffee with Sean McVay you're going to be a head coach in the NFL. There is a ton of truth to that, because if you spend time around the guy he gives you a ton of confidence in yourself," Taylor said. "He's shown a lot of us young guys that you can do it your own way. It doesn't have to be the way it's always been done for the last 20 years maybe around the league.

"There can be a different way of doing things. I think we all saw that from Sean. He was very open with how he did things and why he made certain decisions. That has allowed myself and a lot other guys to go off and feel very comfortable leading a team, because of the impact he made on all of us."