Lay it On The Line


It’s an axiom so simple that even a numbskull like me gets it: “The game is won in the trenches.” I believe that whole-heartedly. To be anything more than mediocre, a team has to have great offensive and defensive lines. Without them, skill players don’t often have the time to use those skills to their fullest. And success will be sporadic.

Joe Reedy’s recent grading of the 2010 offensive line and defensive line gives me the perfect opportunity to get on my soapbox. And I’d love to know if you agree with Joe’s grades.

First, the offensive line.

LT: Whitworth. LG: Livings. C: Cook. RG: Williams. RT: Roland/Smith/Collins.

Whitworth had a very good 2010, a Pro Bowl caliber year. I think we have settled that he is in the right spot on the line. No more talk about moving him to LG and drafting another LT.

Livings is a free agent. Sign him as a cheap backup, only because depth is so lacking. He should not be starting. Per JR: “According to Pro Football Focus, Livings allowed the third most quarterback pressures of any guard in the league (28).” Need I say more?

Cook is also a free agent. He is not great, but he is certainly not bad. Given the amount of needs on the line, he is worth keeping for now.

Big Bobbie had a rough year. He has been solid since he got here, so it is tough to know if he is past his prime or if he just had an off year. With one year left on his deal, having someone ready behind him is a real need.

Right tackle. What a mess. Roland is a free agent, let him go. Collins is thought to be a natural left tackle, but he did well on the right side in pass protection. Andre Smith… ugh.

For 2011, I forget where I heard the idea, but I am intrigued by putting Andre Smith at LG. They have to keep working with him over the next 2 years. If he doesn’t break his foot for the 3rd time, being inside may suit him better for now. If he can stay off crutches (big if) and actually do well there (bigger if), he could be a huge upgrade from Nate Livings. And Whit could help him along.

That would give us Whitworth-Smith-Cook-Williams-Collins. I’m not sure I’m looking at greatness there, but it is better than 2010’s lineup.

Evan Mathis deserves a chance to earn a starting spot. He could be another candidate for left guard. Maybe a better candidate. He does not have the potential of Andre Smith, but he seems to have a better work ethic, some nastiness, and can’t swallow an entire lasagna whole.

The O-line MUST be bolstered in the draft. They have to get some depth. My top scenario is to see the Bengals drop back in round 1 and get a guy like Gabe Carimi. Or wouldn’t Mike Pouncey make things interesting? A round 1 pick for the O-line isn’t absolutely vital, but it had better be addressed by round 3. Mike Brown cannot continue to try to get by on college free agents. (Livings, Cook and Roland are all CFAs.)

Joe gave them a “C” for 2010. That’s a bit kind. I’m thinking more like “D+”.

Now for the defensive line.

The lineup at the end of the year mostly featured DEs Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers, Jonathan Fanene and Michael Johnson, and DTs Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, Pat Sims and Tank Johnson. After a putrid first half of the year, this lineup began to get more production as the second half progressed.

Tank Johnson and Robert Geathers are the only free agents in the group. I would look into keeping Geathers at a decent price, while Tank would be free to go. Odom hasn’t been able to play since Oct ’09. It would be easy to write him off as injury-prone, but I’d like to know more about his condition before I do that. If he did stay, he shouldn’t expect to automatically be a starter. I am more inclined to let Frostee Rucker go because of injuries.

If the Bengals cannot trade back to get an OL, then they should take the best available DL. The current group is good, but more depth is needed. Upgrading here upgrades the entire defense. The Bengals have plenty of tape on how much pressure is put on the LBs and DBs when there is no push at the line. Getting even more push than the “Fisher Price” package was getting makes all of the other 7 guys that much better.

(The one exception I might make here is with Patrick Peterson. If he can be made into a big-time safety like some suggest, I’d take that.)

Joe grades the defensive line at a “C”. That might sound low at first because of the good finish, but for the year as a whole, I think that’s about right.