The Cincinnati Bengals struggled mightily when it came to effectively running the football last season—that should not come as a surprise by any means.
Averaging only 109.1 yards per game on the ground in 2012, the Bengals finished the season ranked 18th overall in the league.
The Bengals are seemingly stacked with above-average offensive linemen—lead by blue-chip tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith. In fact, both of these players received top-10 rankings at the tackle position from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Even guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler received positive overall grades last season from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
These players comprise the second best pass-protecting offensive line in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). However, the same players make up the 6th worst run-blocking line in the league (via Pro Football Focus (subscription required)).
So, what gives?
How are these offensive linemen—who are obviously talented in pass protection—so terrible blocking for the run?
After deeply looking into the early struggles of the line from a year ago, one conclusion could be reached. They have been deeply inconsistent getting off of their initial blocks and taking an appropriate angle to block at the second level against linebackers.
This is something that is obviously not required in pass protection—hence, their high grades in that area. However, they continue to struggle in this department when it comes to the run.
The numbers from Pro Football Focus speak volumes about these players; however, their inconsistencies are very noticeable when paying close attention to their in-game performances.
Let's take a look at two plays from their Week 4 performance last season against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The offensive line was still struggling at this point in the season, which lead to their inconsistencies while blocking for the run.
Early in this game, the offensive line's struggles were very noticeable. Within a matter of five plays, they showed the bad and the good of their run-blocking abilities.
This is a simple off-tackle running play out of the I-formation. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will follow the blocks on the right side of the offensive line in attempt to get through a hole created off of the right tackle's inside hip. Whitworth, on the left side of the line, must get to the strong-side linebacker to prevent him from making a play from the backside.
As soon as Green-Ellis gets the handoff, Whitworth has already sprung to the second level. This is generally a good thing—he was able to shed his initial contact quickly. However, he takes a very poor angle when attempting to engage with the linebacker.
Now that the strong-side backer has sprung free, he is able to plug up the hole from the backside. This causes all of the big men in the trenches to become bottled up in a small area.
The defense prevails as a hole was unable to open up for Green-Ellis. This play only nets a total of three yards, mainly due to the missed block by Whitworth at the second level.
Obviously, that was not a pretty sight, and unfortunately, it was seen all too often from the Bengals offensive line last season. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They were able to put together some nice blocks—albeit, only on occasion.
This next play features almost the same type of off-tackle run to the right side. However, this time, it will be the responsibility of center Jeff Faine and Smith to get to the second level and block the middle and weak-side linebackers, respectively.
Both players get up to the second level in a hurry and take great angles to engage the linebackers. Notice how much room Green-Ellis has to work with at this point. The offensive line has essentially created a pocket around him. All he needs to do is accelerate between these two blocks and he is instantly into the secondary.
Green-Ellis gets between the two blockers as Smith pancakes his target. Now, Green-Ellis has eclipsed 10 yards before he is even touched by a defender.
He lowers his head and drives forward for another three yards after contact. This play nets a total of 13 yards for the Bengals offense.
This is a huge difference between two very similar plays from this offensive line. The matter of effectively getting to the second level and engaging with the appropriate linebacker could easily become the difference of gaining an extra 10 yards.
Cincinnati did improve in this department toward the second half of the 2012 season. Although, there is plenty of improvements that must take place before this team can be considered a threat on the ground.
Like most instances, it all starts with the big men in the trenches. That certainly goes for the Bengals regarding their ground game.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.