Bengals ‘have to have guys step up’ on depleted offensive line

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor confirmed left tackle Jonah Williams dislocated his knee cap in Sunday’s wild-card playoff win over Baltimore, but it’s too soon to know how that impacts his availability for the divisional round game at Buffalo.

Williams had to be helped off the field in the second quarter of the 24-17 win Sunday and did not return. Taylor said Williams is week-to-week, and the status for right guard Alex Cappa, who suffered a left ankle injury in the regular-season finale, remains up in the air still as well.

The Bengals have lost a starting offensive lineman in each of the last three complete games. Right tackle La’el Collins tore his ACL in the Dec. 24 win at New England and is done for the season, then Cappa and Williams unfortunately followed suit with their own injuries over these last two games. That leaves center Ted Karras and rookie left guard Cordell Volson as the lone starters left.

Former Clemson left tackle Jackson Carman, who has been a right guard and backup left guard in his first two seasons with the Bengals, replaced Williams for the remainder of Sunday’s game, and Max Scharping got his first start in Cappa’s place at right guard. Hakeem Adeniji has been Collins’ replacement.

“It’s an interesting spot,” Karras said Monday. “We have to have guys step up. We’ve lost three starters. That’s never a huge recipe for anything good. But we certainly overcame that. I’m really proud of the guys that stepped in. Max played an excellent game. So did Hakeem. When Jackson came in, he showed what he can do at tackle, which is exciting, a guy taking advantage of an opportunity. We’re going into Buffalo as road dogs. I can’t wait to see what this unit has in store. I know Frank (Pollack) will get us right throughout the week. We’ll get continuity together, roll the ball out and win in Buffalo.”

Williams dislocated his right knee cap in the Week 5 loss at Baltimore but missed just six snaps and returned to finish the game. He said that week that his kneecap had slid to the side of his leg but popped back on his own, and team doctors deemed it stable enough to play. His current injury is with his left knee.

Injuries on the offensive line have been concerning this late in the season, especially after the Bengals went through the first 15 games with no changes to the lineup and the offense seemed to be jelling.

Cincinnati generated just 234 yards of offense Sunday, which was the team’s second-worst output this season, and the offense has produced less than 260 net yards in three of the last four games. The Bengals didn’t have any plays longer than 19 yards, and they also allowed four total sacks, which is the most since a Week 8 loss at Cleveland when they allowed five. They hadn’t surrendered more than two in any game since then.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the sacks all came in different ways, and those, along with the inability to get explosive plays, were not reflective of any particular struggles on offense but more so an indication of how good Baltimore’s defense has been in the second half of the season.

“That’s probably why they’ve been a top defense in the back half of the season,” Taylor said. “They’re not giving up explosives to anybody, and so it’s not just us. There’s a way that these games play out ... and they oftentimes end up being one-score games against them, whether they won or lost. You’re not going to get a lot of possessions. They run the football, and it takes the clock down. They do a good job, they are a smart defense. So it’s a challenge. You’ve seen a lot of our drives or a lot of plays in the drive when we scored against them, and that’s just part of it. You can call the drop plays all day and protect and they might not be open because they do a good job rolling the coverages different ways. And there’s times when we call those. You don’t realize it because the ball’s not going down the field because it’s maybe taken away, and so Joe (Burrow) is doing a good job of being efficient and taking underneath, and that’s just part of how it plays out.”

Taylor thought Carman did “a nice job, especially being thrust in there.” D’Ante Smith was listed as the backup left tackle but Carman jumped him in the depth chart Sunday and played the final 28 snaps on offense. Smith reported as an eligible receiver on one snap.

Carman spent his rookie season at right guard but lost the job to Adeniji in the backend of the season. He was moved to left guard this season but lost that battle in training camp, as rookie Cordell Volson won the job. Taylor said Carman has worked at both tackle spots and at guard since then; however, he had only been active three games prior to Sunday and only saw snaps on offense once when he appeared on four plays as an extra tackle in the regular-season finale.

“I thought given the opportunity that he had, against a tough defensive line, I thought he handled it really well,” Taylor said. “He’s been working at tackle over the course of the season. Frank does a good job of repping all those guys, trying to get them all ready. Again, you can never predict which side you’re going to be on. That’s just part of life, being a back-up offensive lineman. He’s done a good job embracing that and being ready for his opportunity.”


Bengals at Bills, 3 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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