A vastly different Bengals offensive line awaits the Cleveland Browns visit to the Jungle.
So the Cleveland Browns are facing a new Bengals offensive line which they managed to rebuild without Penei Sewell, when they drafted Ja’Marr Chase instead, based on the strong recommendation of quarterback Joe Burrow.
Overall, the Bengals offense is humming under the direction of offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, the son of Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan. Cincinnati has the 15th-ranked offense overall in terms of yards per game at 363.1 and the 11th ranked passing attack with 264.5 yards per game.
Believe it or not, Cleveland is actually a little higher at 10th with 382.5 yards per game. However the Browns do not score points. The Bengals average 27.5 points per game and the Browns average only 22.9. It’s not obvious why that should be true, but dropping fourth-down passes probably does not help.
The Bengals were universally excoriated for not drafting Sewell, who supposedly was going to be an All-Universe stud offensive tackle. He fell to the Detroit Lions, who seem to be pleased by him. He’s been a decent tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, he grades out as slightly below average and he has allowed four sacks this season, but he is a rookie and will get better. Good pick.
As for the Bengals, they picked Ja’Marr Chase over the studly Sewell. The talking heads about lost it. Joe Burrow’s career was surely going to be ruined by this foolish pick.
But Chase only has 786 receiving yards this season, third in the NFL. He only has seven receiving touchdowns, 20.9 yards per reception good for number one in the NFL. As for Burrow, he has now entered the MVP race, and his stock is eclipsing that of Patrick Mahomes, according to Sports Illustrated.
What the supposed experts were overlooking was that the Bengals already had two starting offensive tackles in Jonah Williams (the 11th overall pick in 2019) and free-agent signee Riley Reiff. Reiff is not a spring chicken at age 32, but he can play and PFF grades him higher than Sewell for now.
Quinton Spain is the starting left guard next to Williams, and is a seven-year NFL starter. On the right side, they have Jackson Carman, a 2021 second-round pick who was day-to-day after a back injury suffered in practice. The Bengals website is saying he’s going to start. If he cannot go, they have Trey Hill, who was selected in the sixth round. The Bengals also drafted tackle D’Ante Smith out of East Carolina, but he is on IR with a torn meniscus in his knee.
Center Trey Hopkins is listed as questionable with a concussion. If he’s not available, they may move Trey Hill to center.
When Joe Burrow was injured last season, it was not because the Bengals had terrible starters, but they were playing backups due to injuries. In pass protection, it matters a lot how good your number five lineman is. The Bengals did not have it last season, and they were facing a very formidable pass rush from Washington.
Their response was to sign Riley Reiff, a true professional tackle, and to draft three linemen in the NFL draft. That seem like a decent plan. Plus with Brian Callahan as offensive coordinator, perhaps he learned a thing or two from his old man.
Overall, the Bengals offensive line is stronger at the tackle positions than in the center, but they are not outstanding. The Browns are better, man for man, and can out-muscle the Bengals at the line. Most of the time, Burrow is not going to have time to set up, and running back Joe Mixon is not going to find daylight.
However, if the Bengals O-Line can hang on just a little, the advantage switches to them. Can Denzel Ward with a sore hammy cover Ja’Marr Chase? We have not even talked about Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, who are also extremely formidable. Burrow is going to get some completions and some yardage.
Still in all, the Bengals average offensive line is going to meet a dominant defensive front and that matchup will be the more important one. The Cleveland defense should prevail in Cincinnati and hold Burrow & Co. to below their accustomed output levels, especially in the running game.