Football is a game won in the trenches. And this is where the Bengals lost many battles in 2016.
Heading into training camp, the development of the offensive line will be one of the focal points of the team. After surrendering 41 sacks last season, logic dictates there is nowhere to go but up.
It’s important the line is able to develop cohesion because they are the conductors running the train. When they communicate, they are on the same page and the rest of the offense has a flow to it. However, when the line struggles, the offense becomes disconnected. This disjointed flow affects the timing between Andy Dalton and his receivers; even influencing running backs’ footwork, and in turn, the running game.
The Bengals struggled not only in protecting Dalton but also in the red zone. The best illustration of the offense’s struggles inside the 20 was in their 19-14 loss to the Ravens. In that contest, they scored once in five trips to the red zone.
Improving red zone efficiency and pass protection go hand in hand, and the offensive line is a great place to start. As versatile as the Bengals could be on offense this season, if the line struggles to develop then it doesn’t matter if John Ross’s speed stretches defenses vertically. Dalton will be flat on his back, where he spent far too much time last season.
What makes this so perplexing is the Bengals lost two of their best offensive lineman in the offseason. Andrew Whitworth went to the Rams; Kevin Zeitler remained in the division by signing with the Browns.
These moves give football analysts little to no confidence in the Bengals’ offensive line entering this season. Pro Football Focus ranked the Bengals’ offensive line 31st in the league, stating:
No line can lose two Pro-bowl caliber players and expect to still perform at a high level.
Dalton expressed optimism in the new offensive line, but even he knows it’s a matter of putting it together. This circles back to cohesion, something the line must develop during camp. If they don’t, the same struggles which plagued the Bengals in 2016 will return.