Improvement needed from Bengals' offensive line

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) is hit by Los Angeles Chargers' Jerry Tillery (99) after a pass during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) is hit by Los Angeles Chargers' Jerry Tillery (99) after a pass during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor didn’t try to sugarcoat the offensive line’s performance in the first half of Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Chargers.

Simply put, it wasn’t good enough and rookie quarterback Joe Burrow was left “running for his life.”

Burrow was sacked three times and took multiple other hits in the first two quarters of the 16-13 defeat, but the offensive line adjusted in the second half and didn’t allow another sack the rest of the game. The Bengals had plenty of chances to add to their point total in the second half and couldn’t do it, for reasons mostly unrelated to the offensive line.

Taylor will be looking for more out of the unit on short rest Thursday when the Bengals play the Browns in Cleveland.

“That’s two of the best edge rushers in the NFL (Chargers defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram),” Taylor said. “If you’re going to keep two or three receivers out, it’s going to be a long day. We tried to help those (linemen) the best we could. I thought they really rebounded nicely in the second half.”

Left tackle Jonah Williams, who also made his NFL debut Sunday, said the Chargers lined up a little differently than the Bengals expected and it took some time to adjust. He felt like the offensive line settled in and started to understand the assignments better in the second half, which enabled Burrow more time to make decisions and helped put the offense in better situations.

Williams was expecting to match up with Joey Bosa more than he did, but the times he did face Bosa didn’t go so well. Bosa got his sack rushing past Williams, and finished with three of the team’s six quarterback hits. Bobby Hart got beat on the other two sacks.

“Obviously, there is a lot I can improve on,” Williams said. “Not going to make excuses for that. It’s just something you have to move on the next week and get better. There are 16 games in the season and playoffs. It’s one game that I don’t think any of us are going to hang our hats on.”

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said Williams did a decent job for his first NFL game, but there will be plenty of room for improvement as the Bengals face plenty of challenges in the pass rush this season. Opposing defenses are going to be especially looking to apply pressure on their rookie quarterback.

The Bengals put extra pressure on the line at times in five-man protection situations with five wide receivers spreading the field, especially late in the game.

“I think we got a really good group of receivers and you put those guys on the field and a defense has to determine how they’re going to cover it and who’s going to cover who, and so somewhere there’s going to be a mismatch and somewhere someone should be open,” said Callahan, who will face his father, Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan, on Thursday. “Now, again the downside to the five-man protection and five wide receivers is that it’s five guys protecting with no help. And there’s a time and a place for that, and sometimes it has moments where it struggles, but overall I thought it was pretty effective, especially late in the game there.”

The run-blocking also looked rusty at times, although the Bengals finished with 122 yards rushing and the only touchdown came on the ground – a quarterback draw that Burrow ran in from 23 yards out. Joe Mixon finished with 69 yards on 19 carries, and Burrow had 46 yards on eight carries.

Mixon’s longest run was for 14 yards.

“We didn’t really have the explosives in the run game that we are capable of, especially with such a great back like we have,” Williams said. “I definitely think there are things I’ll be able to say more specifically when we watch the film but the fact we weren’t really busting out big runs on the O-line, we weren’t doing our job as well as we can and as well as we should.”