Giving up five sacks in three games is hardly ideal, but for the Cincinnati Bengals, it’s progress that is helping to open up the offense.
The Bengals allowed two sacks in Sunday’s 20-17 win in Denver against one of the top defenses in the league. It marked the third consecutive game in which the offensive line has allowed two or fewer after giving up at least three in six of the first seven.
“I feel like it’s trending positively,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “In this game, it helped that we kept the game in our favor, that we had the lead.”
It was hardly an offensive masterpiece, with the Bengals gaining just 190 yards . But for a team that had converted just two of its previous 23 third downs to go 7 of 15 with three touchdowns was a significant step forward.
That offensive struggle for consistency has made it imperative for the Bengals to gain big chunks of yards at a time, and the last three weeks they’ve been able to do it by finding success with big plays in the passing game.
Andy Dalton has six passes of at least 25 yards in the last three weeks, and it easily could’ve been seven with the deep-strike touchdown he threw to Green for the final score Sunday being limited only because the line of scrimmage was the Denver 18.
“I just think our guys know this is what you need to do to win,” said Lazor, who also watched Dalton connect with Alex Erickson on a 29-yard touchdown three plays after Brandon LaFell hauled in a 29-yard catch of his own.
“I think our linemen know we have good receivers,” Lazor added. “You can’t always throw a hitch.”
Two weeks ago in the loss at Tennessee, the Bengals scored their first touchdown on a 37-yard pass from Dalton to LaFell, and their last one, a go-ahead score with 5:03 remaining, on a 70-yarder to Green that stands as the second longest pass play of the season.
“It’s hard to keep driving only getting three yards (at a time),” Green said. “Sometimes you have to take a shot down the field.”
Ironically it was an unfortunate loss that seemed to spark the improvement on the offensive line.
Since starting tackle Jake Fisher left the Jacksonville game with what later was announced to be a season-ending heart issue, the Bengals have had to abandon the three-man rotation at tackle. And it seems as though the continuity of having each of the five lineman play every snap is a driving force behind the better protection.
“We would love to have Jake (Fisher) in the rotation and be where we are with him (playing), but we need to keep working at it,” Lewis said. “We need to do a good job with whatever responsibilities (we have). All of our guys battled yesterday. We did the one thing you want to do when you play in Denver: make sure you have the lead. That enables you to control the (pass) rush a bit. They have three outstanding edge rushers.”
Right tackle Andre Smith did not allow Denver star linebacker Von Miller get to Dalton on Sunday, while left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi didn’t allow a single pressure in what was arguably the best game of his three-year career.
“You like to think guys gain momentum,” Lazor said. “Different guys figure certain things out. Technique, or how to play the game, or how to prepare. And so hopefully it’s a step forward for him that can be built upon. That’s what you like to see.
“There’s no excuses for anyone, but he’s still at the younger end of his career, so let’s make it not a spike, but a stepping stone,” he added.
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One of the two sacks the Broncos recorded was of the coverage variety, when Dalton couldn’t find anyone open on a third down late in the third quarter. The other came in the second quarter when Dalton stepped up in the pocket only to have Denver’s Derek Wolfe make a great play by reaching around guard Clint Boling to get a fistful of jersey.
“I think even the couple sacks that may have happened (Sunday), some of that was my fault,” Dalton said. “I was just holding onto the ball and trying to get out and make a play happen. But I thought (the offensive line) did a great job. We have to keep playing games like this and keep protecting like that, and we’ll give ourselves a good opportunity to win these games.
“I think if you keep taking the deeper shots down the field, you have to protect a little longer,” he added. “I thought our guys did a great job and, hopefully, we can carry that going forward.”