Karras: Bengals’ offensive line better this season, but more work to be done

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

CINCINNATI ― Ted Karras saw much improvement in the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line play this past season, and with most of the group expected to return, the veteran center said the unit has to make even greater strides in 2024.

The Bengals have invested heavily in the offensive line the past two offseasons, and although it looked much better in 2023 than 2022, the production relative to the spending hasn’t lived up to expectations.

ProFootballFocus.com ranked Cincinnati’s offensive line 26th of the 32 teams in the league this past season, up two spots from a year ago. However, the data-driven site had projected the Bengals to be as good as eighth in 2022, based on the initial overhaul that brought in Karras, right guard Alex Cappa and the hyped signing of right tackle La’el Collins (since departed).

After the Bengals’ line finished 2022 ranked 28th, PFF projected the unit to be the 17th best going into 2023 with the addition of left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and move of Jonah Williams to right tackle.

“Overall if you look at the film, an O-line takes a lot of heat, on every team, but I think if you look at the film and compare this year and last year, I do think we outperformed how we played last year, so we are going to need to keep building on it,” Karras said. “It’s going to be a lot of our third year together, so 2024 needs to be huge for us.”

The Bengals offensive line will always face extra scrutiny because of the number of pressures allowed, but few quarterbacks drop back more than Joe Burrow. His season-ending wrist injury in Week 11 at Baltimore makes the final stats difficult to read, as the offense clearly operated differently with Jake Browning.

PFF gave Cincinnati a pass blocking grade of 58.8, ranking 22nd among all teams, but it was a big improvement from 31st in 2022 (56.1). None of the five starters earned a grade of 70.0 or better, while they combined to allow 27 sacks and 177 pressures. Brown finished with a team-high 56 pressures allowed.

Burrow indicated a more explosive running game in the future would help ease some of the pressure off him. The Bengals have a physical bunch up front, which made for a more efficient running game, but the long runs were few and far between. More under center plays also could open up the offense more and make it less predictable for defenses.

Karras felt like Year 2 in the system for him, Cappa and Volsen made a big difference for the line chemistry, and that should be even better in 2024 even if Williams departs in free agency. Everyone else is set to return.

“I think we had a better understanding of the scheme,” Karras said. “I think we blocked a lot better. It’s hard to say that and you take some heat probably when your QB1 goes down, but overall, when I look back at the film of both years, I think we’re on an upward trajectory, but we’re going to need to make that even more steep going into 2024.”

The offense did benefit from the five starting linemen staying on the field together all season, as they were the only team to have all five start every game. Williams and Volsen played 100 percent of the offensive snaps this season, while Karras played every snap until the second half of the finale against the Browns when some of the backups entered.

Cappa played 100 percent of the snaps in all but three games, and Brown dipped under 100 percent just twice this season.

“You talk about these guys, knock on wood, a lot of these guys went 100 percent of the snaps this year and that’s a big deal,” Karras said. “Availability is always greater than ability. 100 percent of the snaps is a big deal, and I’m very proud of the way this O-line fought and played.”

Now the big question is how the Bengals will address the right tackle spot with Williams set to hit free agency. He showed versatility effectively making the switch from left to right tackle and likely will be among the top free agents. Karras said he set himself up for “a fun spring” with how he performed.

Williams, this coaching staff’s first draft pick in 2019, could return but should have options.

“Jonah has competed really hard for us for five years now,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “There is a lot of appreciation on our end as coaches for the job he’s done moving from left tackle to right tackle. I think he’s served himself well and done an excellent job for us. I look forward to seeing what the future holds. With a lot of those guys that are on expiring contracts it remains to be seen. Those are conversations that we’ll undergo over the next month-and-a-half.”

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