The beleaguered Bengals pass protection hopes to get a break Sunday in Houston not because they are playing a more conventional 4-3 defense but because for the first time in a month they are playing a defense where the convention isn't built around the sack.
Even though the Texans boast the AFC's most prolific sacker over the past two seasons in end Mario Williams (20), that is nothing what the past three games have entailed. Against 3-4 defenses ranked in the NFL's top six in sacks per pass, the Bengals have allowed 14 sacks to the Cowboys, Jets and Steelers.
But the Texans only have nine sacks, six belonging to Williams, nobody else has more than one, and they blitz only occasionally.
Whitworth only gets the 6-6, 285-pound Williams on a blitz or if the line does some kind of a slide. But other than those rare times, Williams will be lined up on left tackle Levi Jones about 70 percent of the time and the other 30 on right tackle Stacy Andrews. The Bengals tackles have had some tough times, but offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski prefers to refer to the "pass-protection" unit that has struggled. The big question is if the Bengals will change their M.O. and help their tackles by double-teaming Williams with a tight end or running back.
"There are certain situations where maybe you have guys run by him to distract him a little bit," Whitworth said. "Guys releasing out of the backfield, stuff like that. We have always felt good enough about our players to just play. Our tackles have always played solid enough to do that. Maybe there'll be a situation where you help out a little bit. This (season) so far, everybody has helped (on Williams)."
Whitworth smiled when asked about the Bengals philosophy of giving their tackles little or no help no matter the pass rusher.
"Trust me. I remember when I was a rookie against Indianapolis," said Whitworth of the 2006 game in the din of the RCA Dome he started at left tackle in place of the injured Jones.
Whitworth didn't fare so well against All-World pass rusher Dwight Freeney on a night Freeney ended up with three sacks. And Freeney isn't as big as Williams. No one is on the edge.
"Any time you're big, you can run around, and have really long arms, you're going to be a tough guy to block," Whitworth said. "He does a great job being elusive even though he's a big guy. Using his hands and keeping people away from him."
"They don't blitz very much in their (passing) packages, but it's on everybody to protect when you have that many sacks," Fitzpatrick said.
A few more examples on why it's not always the line's fault. Last week the Steelers linebackers got Fitzpatrick for all seven sacks on Sunday and two came when he rolled out. On one, a sprintout to the right, both receivers were covered but he tried to go back to the left and hung long enough for Lawrence Timmons to get him. On a red-zone sack, he ran a naked bootleg to the right but running back Cedric Benson didn't run the right route, totally understandable after being initiated to the playbook only about three weeks ago. But again, Fitzpatrick had to hold the ball a little longer than he wanted and it gave Lamarr Woodley time to mirror him before sacking him on a rollout.
No, Whitworth may not get Williams on Sunday. But he's still a tackle at heart.
"I'm doing an evaluation for the future," he said.
"He overthrew me and I can run like Hussein Bolt," said The Ocho on Wednesday about the big play the Bengals nearly completed last Sunday. "He can throw it. He has a good arm. I mean, he's no golden boy No. 9, but we're not going to use him the same way we use No. 9," Ocho Cinco said of Fitzpatrick.
"It's just getting into a rhythm and just working on it and completing those. We haven't thrown deep like that in seven weeks. That's why we were one or two inches from six points. We're not going to wake up from our sleep and complete (long balls)."
Ocho Cinco's longest catch this season is 22 yards. The last time he went seven straight games without catching a 40-yarder? You guessed it. That same stretch the Bengals went 0-7 the last time before they got their first win in Houston in '02. That year he went the first nine games before catching a plus 40.
But he continues to be a delightful break from the mundane opponent conference calls for the opposition media. Here's what he had to say Wednesday about former teammate and the Texans No. 2 receiver Kevin Walter:
"I'm super excited. I'm super excited. Kev's got some of the most unbelievable teaching from one of the greatest receiving coaches, to me, that I've had a chance to deal with, and that was Hue Jackson when he was here," he said. "Not only that, he was able to pick some of the things that T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) and I learned from one of our closest trainers as far as when it comes to playing receiver and running routes. And really, taking the skills that Kev learned here with the toughness and all of the pizzazz he already has as a receiver, it's no surprise he would be the starter on any team he was on opposite of whoever the No. 1 is.
"Kev's got to be the hardest working receiver in football, to get where you're at. If y'all get a chance, please tell him I said congratulations on all of the success and tell him that he still has the sexiest body in football, too.