CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals could be without four starting offensive linemen when they take the field next against the Tennessee Titans.
Left tackle Jonah Williams, center Trey Hopkins and right tackle Bobby Hart now join right guard Xavier Su’a-Filo among the linemen who might be unavailable after suffering injuries during Sunday’s 37-34 loss to Cleveland.
According to Bengals coach Zac Taylor, Hart will be out indefinitely – this week for sure – with a knee injury, but Williams is “day-to-day” with a neck injury and Hopkins is going through concussion protocol. Right guard Xavier Su’a-Filo has been out since suffering an ankle injury in the opener, and the hope is to have him back after the Week 9 bye, Taylor said.
Williams' injury could be less severe than originally expected but the Bengals should know more Wednesday.
“It was scary there during the game (with Williams' neck) but things are starting to look up and so he’ll be day-to-day and we will continue to gather more information to see how he feels starting with tomorrow,” Taylor said Monday.
Before the game Sunday it was reported that the Bengals were going to bring former Bills guard Quinton Spain in for a visit. When asked about interest in Spain, Taylor said the team is looking at all options and “will see how things go throughout the week.”
Williams and Hopkins both exited before the Bengals' final drive of the first half, which resulted in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Joe Burrow to Tyler Boyd for a 17-10 lead with 15 seconds left in the second quarter. Hart injured his knee on the Bengals' last full drive of the second half, before Burrow connected with Giovani Bernard on a fourth-and-1 for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:06 left that didn’t end up holding as the game-winner.
Fred Johnson came in at left tackle, Billy Price replaced Hopkins at center and rookie Hakeem Adeniji played in Hart’s spot to finish the game, and despite all the backups, the Bengals still kept moving the ball. Burrow recorded his first 400-yard passing performance and finished with three passing touchdowns behind the makeshift offensive line. He was sacked four times and three of those came before the injuries.
“It just starts with the protection,” Taylor said. “First of all, those guys up front, did a really, really good job, and that’s with the running backs and the tight ends as well. And yes, Joe (Burrow) plays a major part in this. Joe kind of brings this whole thing to life. But the detail in receivers right now it was really good and the tight end group as well.... Again, it’s just fun to watch those guys find a rhythm and be detailed and dialed in and playing as a group there, it was really good to see yesterday.”
The defense, on the other hand, has struggled to pin-point its problems, especially at the end of games. The Bengals have allowed 68 points over the last two games, and they’ve been banged up on the defensive line and were missing both starting outside corners Sunday.
Burrow and his receivers have carried the team through the first seven weeks, and they just seem to be getting more and more comfortable.
“I think we’ve really been able to jell together,” tight end Drew Sample said Monday of how the offense was able to keep going without two of its best linemen for a whole half. “Just the type of offseason it was, it was kind of crazy. The more games we play, I feel like the more cohesive we can get and the more understanding we just have of the offense. Guys are always ready. You never know. You’re a play away from, God-forbid, something happening to anyone. Guys have to be ready. We had who were ready yesterday. We were able to go down and finish those drives and put us in a good spot to finish the game there.”
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Hart graded (at 83.6) as the best offensive player for the Bengals on Sunday, while left guard Michael Jordan (75.3) was the next best. Johnson was the worst-graded player at 42.5.
Taylor said the play calls didn’t change at all because of new linemen coming in, and he wouldn’t feel a need to adjust anything differently ahead of this week’s game against Tennessee either.
“I think we believe in everybody we walk out on that field,” Taylor said. “Yesterday, those linemen kept dropping and you hate it for them because those guys are working their tails off and then they get hurt. But we had confidence in the guys we put right in there. We didn’t change one play call because of the the guys that we got in there. Those guys have been here. They’ve been getting a ton of reps … so they’re ready when their number was called and now we’ve got confidence in those guys.”
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