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Bengals offensive line improving
Is the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive line actually getting better? One of the most maligned units in the NFL appears to be showing measurable improvement.
"I feel like it's trending positively," Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. "Everyone is trying to win, everyone wants to do it right. I think they are working at it."
The running game remains stagnant and Andy Dalton has been sacked 27 times, but only five of those sacks have come over the past three games. Dalton was sacked just once in Sunday's 20-17 win at Denver.
This is a group that lost veterans Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler to free agency last offseason and Jake Fisher to a season-ending heart condition three weeks ago. Veteran Andre Smith has taken over right tackle and Cedric Ogbuehi finally seems to be settling at left tackle. Veteran tackle Eric Winston was brought back to provide some stability.
"We would love to have Jake (Fisher) in the rotation and be where we are with him, but we need to keep working at it," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "We need to clean some things up in the running game. We have to keep doing it together the right way, all of the time."
Cincinnati (4-6), which somehow finds itself just one game off the pace for the second AFC wild card, hosts the winless Cleveland Browns (0-10) on Sunday.
The Bengals won 31-7 in Cleveland in October. But, the Browns didn't have No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett in that game. Garrett is tied for third among NFL rookies with four sacks despite playing only five games. His four sacks are tied for the team lead.
"He's got all the talent," Dalton said. "He's physically gifted."
Improved line play is opening up some down-field opportunities for Dalton who had touchdown passes of 29 yards to Alex Erickson and 18 yards to A.J. Green in the win over the Broncos. Green caught a 70-yard touchdown in a loss at Tennessee two weeks ago.
"I just think our guys know this is what you need to do to win," Lazor said. "I think our linemen know we have good receivers. You can't always throw a hitch. Sometimes you have to throw it down the field. To do it, it sounds obvious, but when we call this in the huddle this is what it is going to take."
Prior to the season, there was a lot of talk about the Bengals' myriad of offensive weapons. A season-ending back injury to tight end Tyler Eifert and slowed progress for rookie receiver John Ross have hurt. But, without steady line play, it wouldn't matter how much talent there is at the skill positions.
The Bengals' offensive line could largely determine whether this team climbs back into the playoff hunt or is looking at a second straight losing season.
"I feel like they've played well the last three games," Dalton said. "You hope guys get better as the season goes on. I feel like these guys have done that."
SERIES HISTORY: 89th regular-season meeting. Bengals lead series, 49-39, including wins in the last six meetings. Cincinnati defeated the Browns 31-7 at Cleveland on October 1. The Bengals own a 29-15 home record against the Browns. With a win on Sunday, the Bengals will sweep the season series with the Browns for the 13th time.