As the Cincinnati Bengals appear to be in the midst of a spiral downward, back toward their pre-Andy Dalton—or more accurately, pre-A.J. Green—days, the protection around Dalton continues to get worse as the season winds down.
Things have not gone all that great for their offensive line since last season. They saw Kevin Zeitler leave in free agency, which was predictable, but when left tackle Andrew Whitworth left with him, it was a bit of a gut punch. Still, they braced for the next era with two high draft picks at tackle.
That hasn’t worked out so well, however. For example, their intended right tackle, Jake Fisher, has already been out of the picture for a month and a half. He has been dealing with a heart condition of some kind, and is on the non-football injury list.
The man who replaced him was just put on injured reserve. That would be Andre Smith, who was their right tackle before Fisher anyway, before he left in free agency in 2016. But he was released from the Vikings and re-signed with the Bengals, originally to play guard.
Smith dealt with a knee injury, and Cincinnati has obviously determined that it was serious enough to end his season. With two games left to play and virtually no hope of making the playoffs, however, that is not exactly an uncommon act for teams in such a position at this time of year.
To make matters even worse, the Bengals are also dealing with an injury to their left tackle, Cedric Ogbuehi, a 2015 first-round draft pick who has been tasked to take over for Whitworth. While he has improved from his past failures—he was benched at right tackle a year ago—he still has a long way to go.
At the moment, he doesn’t figure to play for the team on Sunday as he deals with a shoulder injury. So now down their top three tackles, they will have to figure out how to make it all work. Eric Winston will have to play at one spot, of course, but the other?
One option is to move guard Clint Boling to one of the tackle spots. Another option would be to kick the other guard, Trey Hopkins, out. In either scenario, they likely would have to plug in Alex Redmond, a first-year player with no starts and minimal experience, at the guard spot that gets moved.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had three of their five starting offensive linemen named to the Pro Bowl this season. But Steelers fans should still feel some sympathy. Their offensive line fell even further off the cliff when their core from the early- to mid-00s fell apart. The 2008 team might be the worst offensive line to ever win a Super Bowl.