After coming off his best game of the season last Sunday in New Orleans, new right tackle La'el Collins' progress mirrors what is going on up front as the revamped Bengals offensive line looks to take another step in establishing itself Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's FOX 19) against the Falcons at Paycor Stadium.
Collins, the biggest catch in a free agency the Bengals cast a wide and lucrative net for starting offensive linemen, blanked the Saints' Cam Jordan, the NFL's second-leading active sacker. After marking him for allowing only a hit and a hurry on 45 pass blocks, Pro Football Focus rated Collins the Bengals' third best offensive player in a game the five O-linemen ended up in the offense's top six spots.
Collins' transition to the Bengals has been hampered by a back issue that kept him off the field until the last week of August. He's clearly playing with more confidence. Told he shut down a hell of a pass rusher, Collins said, "I'm a hell of an offensive tackle.
"I think I've found a baseline for how I need to approach the game with the things I'm dealing with," Collins said last week while prepping for the Falcons. "I'm getting kind of settled in. The biggest thing is now I figured that out, I've just got to keep sharpening up. I have to go through some growing pains. I feel like I've settled into the LC the Bengals brought here … It's only up from here."
Quarterback Joe Burrow pumped his line in last week's newser.
"The last two weeks have been pretty lights out from them as far as pass pro goes and we run the ball well, got that going a little bit," Burrow said. "Those guys have a lot of confidence, they're playing really well, they're going to keep that going.
"Those guys are playing very well for us the last couple weeks, and they're going to continue to get better and better. They're meshing as a group, each individual player has played really well for us. I have all the confidence in the world in those guys … "It's just playing together more and understanding the concepts and what teams are trying to do to us. You've got to give credit to those guys for all the work they're putting in."
SPECIAL CARE: The Bengals have to be heads up Sunday on special teams. They're without one of their gunners after back-up wide receiver Stanley Morgan pulled a hamstring and is inactive against the NFL's leading punt returner. Running back Avery Williams has a 17.8-yard average and they've blocked a punt. Plus, Younghoe Koo is one of the top kickers in the game with three 50-yarders this year and he's made 91 percent of his field-goal attempts over the last four years.
INACTIVES: Joining Morgan on the inactive list are guard Jackson Carman and tackle D'Ante Smith along with the injured trio ruled out Friday: Middle linebacker Logan Wilson (shoulder), nose tackle Josh Tupou (calf) and edge Jeff Gunter (knee).