Bengals’ left tackle: Playoffs a ‘clean slate’ for offensive line that gave up team-record 55 sacks this season

Cincinnati Bengals' Jonah Williams, left, participates in a drill against D'Ante Smith, right, during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

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Cincinnati Bengals' Jonah Williams, left, participates in a drill against D'Ante Smith, right, during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams views the playoffs as a “clean slate” for the offensive line.

The Bengals gave up a franchise-record 55 sacks this season and will be facing another good pass rush Saturday when they host the Las Vegas Raiders in a Wild Card playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium.

While this weekend could be a chance at redemption to prove the offensive line is better than the numbers indicate, Williams isn’t thinking about the stats.

“I just see it as a clean slate,” Williams said. “My biggest focus is winning this game and then going on and winning the next one. To do that, we’re going to need to score a lot of points on offense. To do that, we’re going to have to protect our quarterback. And to do that, we’re going to have to be able to execute and do our protections. When I break it down into things like that, I’m not thinking about numbers or stats as much as I’m thinking about my job and our job as an O-Line to protect our quarterback and win some football games.”

Joe Burrow was sacked 51 times in his 16 regular-season games, including three in the Week 11 win at Las Vegas, but when asked if it feels like he’s taken that many hits, Burrow said the sacks only bother him on first and second down.

The Bengals have explained the sacks as having “different stories” behind them. Burrow just wants to make plays, which sometimes means holding onto the ball longer than he would otherwise.

“Sacks are something that you know a lot of different people talk about, but there’s certain situations where you’re fine taking a sack, like on third down when you’re not in field goal position and you’re going to try to make a play and try to create the first down, you might take a sack that you might not normally have taken on first and second down,” Burrow said. “And other situations you’re leading by a lot you don’t want to force a throw and you don’t want to go out and run and risk a fumble so you got to take a sack sometimes. I’m not too worried about the sack stat. You know it is what it is, but there’s a lot of different things that go into that.”

The Bengals have been missing right tackle Riley Reiff since he injured his ankle in Week 12 and tried to return but re-aggravated it. Reiff was placed on the Reserve/Injured list last month and is expected to be out for the year. Isaiah Prince has stepped in as his replacement, playing alongside Hakeem Adeniji at right guard.

Left guard Quinton Spain also is working back from an ankle injury but was a full participant in practice Tuesday, which seems to be a good sign.

Williams said he thought the offensive line did some good things against the Raiders last time, most notably in the run game, but with edge rushers like Maxx Crosby (8.0 sacks) and Yannick Ngakoue (10.0 sacks) and defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson (4.5 sacks), the line needs to hold up better in pass protection.

“They’ve got a lot of good players up front, and again, they can call some pressure that can get home as well,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “You’re not just focused on one guy. That’s probably what they like about their defense. You’ve got Yannick on the other side (from Crosby). They’ve got really good interior guys. They’ve got Clelin Ferrell, first-round pick, who’s back there, Carl Nassib. So they got a lot of guys that can come off the edge as well and contribute from a back-up role, even. And then those guys up front can get you pressure, too. It’s just a really good front. And the guys behind them play really well as well.”

Takeaway opportunities…

The Bengals defense got two takeaways in the final five minutes of the Week 11 win at Las Vegas, and with the Raiders among the teams in the league with the most turnovers (24), that again will be a focus Saturday.

Cincinnati sits right in the middle of the pack in the takeaways category with 21.

“It’s a discussion we have every week, a meeting … about the ball,” free safety Jessie Bates said. “It’s not just about the Raiders, it’s about everyone else around the league, how other teams got the ball off the Raiders. It’s a discussion, every team is talking about it because you win the turnover battle in the playoffs, you’re more likely to win the game.”

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