NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - INSIDE SLANT
There are few teams who could move a Pro Bowl tackle over to guard. That is a situation the Cincinnati Bengals are eyeing for Sunday's pivotal AFC game against Indianapolis.
With Clint Boling on injured reserve and the way a reshuffled line did in last week's 17-10 win over San Diego, the prospect of seeing Andrew Whitworth return to guard might be intriguing for the Bengals as they begin the stretch run of the regular season.
The biggest reason why the Bengals could do this is veteran depth and versatility. Whitworth made 25 starts at guard before shifting over to left tackle in 2009. Anthony Collins, a six-year veteran, has made three starts this year and has 21 in his career.
If it is about having your five best players on the field, it would be Collins and Andre Smith at tackle, Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler at guard and Kyle Cook at center. If Zeitler, who has a foot injury, would miss his third straight game, Mike Pollak could get the start at right guard and has been solid.
Against the Chargers, the grouping of Collins, Whitworth, Cook, Pollak and Smith did not allow a sack and helped the run game post its second-highest total of the season with 164 yards
"I would love the opportunity again but however it shakes out, it shakes out. And wherever I'll play, I'll expect to play winning football," Whitworth said. "A lot of things you can do at guard, you're not allowed to do at tackle. You can't grab and throw guys, you can't really drive on guys that much. You just don't have that leeway because the position you play a lot of the times, there's no way."
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander noticed how the switch seemed to buoy the rest of the team and not just the line.
Said Alexander: "I told him today it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Philip of Macedonia that says 'An army of deer led by a lion is more feared than an army of lions led by a deer' he was that way, he was ferocious. You want your leader to be a lion and not a deer. He was a tiger."
The other option the Bengals have once Zeitler returns is to keep Whitworth at tackle and move Pollak over to left guard.
Pollak, a six-year veteran, missed the first six games due to a knee injury he suffered in the preseason finale. He admitted there was still some rust to knock off in the Cleveland game but was happier with how things went against the Chargers.
"I feel like we do a good job here about knowing what other guys' responsibilities are on the line and other guys like Whit can start playing guard and starts playing well," he said. "I want to play again and if they decide Whit is going to go I will be there supporting if someone goes down."
Indianapolis is 22nd in the league in total defense but has the league's sack leader in Robert Mathis who has 15.5 sacks. Both tackles should expect to see Mathis but Collins shut out Chicago's Julius Peppers in Week 1 and Smith's breakthrough game in pass protection came two years ago against the Colts when he held Mathis without a sack.
With six linemen playing well and only five starts, this week's practices will be a better indicator of what will happen. Even if Pollak or Collins don't start, they are likely to see some action.
"I feel best when we've had a lot of years we played a lot of guys. Not just five," Alexander said. "I really like that kind of thing. You can get a blow, you can be more aggressive, you can go hard, they don't know exactly what you're doing. There are advantages in that. I would love to play that way."
SERIES HISTORY: 26th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 16-9. Colts have won seven of the past eight and are 8-3 in games played in Cincinnati. This is the closest geographical rivalry among AFC teams with a driving distance of 110 miles. The next closest is Cleveland-Pittsburgh at 137 miles.
NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - NOTES, QUOTES
--As the Colts, the Bengals were 4-5 against Baltimore and 5-12 against Indianapolis. That includes one postseason game, a 17-0 win by the Baltimore Colts in 1970. It was the first postseason game for the Bengals and came in their third year as a franchise.
--Since 2003 the Bengals are tied for fifth in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-35. The Colts are second at plus-55. During that span, teams with any plus from one to five have won 80.0 percent of the time.
--The Bengals scored a touchdown in two red-zone opportunities at San Diego, but the second one was late in the game when they went into kneel-down mode. Cincinnati's touchdown percentage rate fell a point to 64.5 but they moved up to third in the league rankings.
--Kevin Huber is the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after tying a franchise record with a 75-yard punt against San Diego. He also had a 55.5-yard gross and net average on four punts.
Huber is the first Bengals punter to be named Player of the Week. The last Bengal to get weekly Special Teams honors was Adam Jones after he returned a punt for a touchdown against Cleveland in Week 2 last year.
This is the fifth weekly or monthly NFL award for the Bengals this season -- Andy Dalton was AFC Offensive Player of the Week for Week 6 and also AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October, Marvin Jones was AFC Offensive Player of the Week for Week 8 and Vontaze Burfict was AFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 11. Last season, the Bengals captured six weekly or monthly awards, tying the franchise record.
--Quarterback Andy Dalton has struggled the past four games but in the second half of the San Diego game he went over 3,000 yards passing on the season. With a nine-yard completion to running back Giovani Bernard early in the third quarter, Dalton joined Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks in league history to throw for 3,000 or more yards their first three seasons in the league.
With the influx of young quarterbacks who play immediately, that mark might lose some of its luster in the next couple years, but for now it can be considered a great accomplishment.
"It's an honor to be mentioned with a guy like Peyton, who has been one of the best in the league for a long time," said Dalton, who was 14 of 23 for 190 yards with a touchdown and interception. "To do something he has done is big, I take pride in it. It's a great honor. As long as we keep winning that's the most important."
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- Consecutive home wins by the Bengals. They are 5-0 at Paul Brown Stadium for the first time and haven't been unbeaten at home in a season since their last Super Bowl trip in 1988.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I said that when the schedule came out. You knew that. I think the only guy we're not playing this year is Drew Brees. There's a lot of guys that have done very well in the NFL, and we've had to face them all this year." - Coach Marvin Lewis on facing another top-flight quarterback.
NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
With Clint Boling being placed on injured reserve, the Bengals re-signed offensive tackle Dennis Roland, who is in his sixth season. Roland was released after three games but has starting experience and can also play guard.
The team also made a practice-squad move, signing center Scott Wedige and releasing defensive end Aston Whiteside.
--LB Vincent Rey is still expected to see the majority of snaps at middle linebacker. He has been solid in pass coverage and had a fumble recovery in last week's win at San Diego.
--CB Dre Kirkpatrick continues to make the most of his limited snaps. He got his first NFL interception during the third quarter of the San Diego game and is expected to see more snaps at nickel corner over the next couple games.
--LB Vontaze Burfict was limited in practice due to an ankle injury he suffered in practice last week but should be ready to start on Sunday.
--WR A.J. Green was limited due to a groin injury. It is not related to a hip pointer that he got during the first quarter of the San Diego game but should be ready to play on Sunday.
--WR Andrew Hawkins was limited due to a hamstring injury that he suffered against San Diego, but he should be available for Sunday's game.
--CB Adam Jones was limited due to a hip injury, but it was mostly precautionary. He is expected to start on Sunday.
--TE Tyler Eifert was limited due to a knee injury but he is expected to play.
GAME PLAN: With windy conditions, the Bengals may need to put it in the hands of their running game again. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is coming off a season-high 92 yards and the left side of the line with Whitworth and Collins did a good job of driving the pile. Andy Dalton also needs to do a better job of getting the tight ends involved after Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham combined for only one catch last week.
The defense got a huge boost last week holding Philip Rivers to 252 yards. With Indianapolis' offensive line allowing five sacks last week, the pass rush will be counted on to close the pocket and produce plenty of sacks. With the struggles in the Colts' run game, this falls right into defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer forcing teams to rely on the pass.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bengals CB Adam Jones vs. Colts WR T.Y. Hilton -- After having a good run in shutting opposing receivers down, Jones did not force a single breakup on Keenan Allen last week and had too many instances where he played the ball instead of the receiver. Hilton has five touchdown catches of 50 yards or more over the past two seasons and is tied for sixth with nine 100-yard receiving games. He is a good vertical receiver who could get some separation on Jones.