After moving over from left tackle to left guard during the Week 13 game at San Diego, the eight-year veteran's physical and athletic play at the new position has been among the key reasons the Bengals' offense is coming off two of its best offensive performances of the season. The call to switch Whitworth was indeed a good one, and it should stick.
But that change isn't the only one that deserves credit. Equally important to Cincinnati's offensive line changes has been the move that took Anthony Collins off the bench, and inserted him into Whitworth's old starting left tackle spot. Without a player the caliber of Collins on their sideline, the Bengals might not be enjoying the run- and pass-block protection that has factored heavily in their last two wins.
From the moment the line changes were made, the Bengals have rushed for 316 yards and passed for 456. Quarterback Andy Dalton has only thrown one interception, and he hasn't been brought down for a sack. The Bengals also were just nine yards away from having respective 100-yard rushing performances in the two games for running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. Yes, since the changes were made, Cincinnati has been rolling offensively.
The changes that moved Whitworth over one spot and inserted Collins into a more active role came on the sixth play of the game at San Diego. On the play before, previously starting left guard Clint Boling tore his ACL. His season was effectively over.
Last week, while debating whether to make the changes stick, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden praised his deep pool of tackles. The group was even so strong to him and head coach Marvin Lewis before the Chargers game that both felt comfortable starting Collins at right tackle in place of Andre Smith, who was benched that day for an unspecified reason. When Boling went down, Smith came in, Whitworth shifted over and Collins moved across the line to Whitworth's previous spot.
"Obviously great tackles are hard to find, but luckily we have three tackles in here that can play NFL football with Collins, Smith and Whit," Gruden said. "And with Whit's versatility and unselfishness, we can play him anywhere and be pretty good."
As a team leader, Whitworth very easily could have declined the opportunity to stay at left guard ahead of last Sunday's game against the Colts, but in deference to his team, he decided to remain on the line's interior. In his eyes, the Bengals are better off with him there than if he stayed on the outside.
"Jay Gruden all week was like, 'I love you in there, but I feel bad if you're going to miss out for going to the Pro Bowl or having an opportunity to be all these things by moving,'" Whitworth said. "I told him, 'To be honest, that's why I wear a 'C' on my chest. Whatever it is that's going to help us win football games, that's what I want to do."
Although his opportunities have been limited, Collins has helped the Bengals win in his own right for much of the year, too.
Sunday's game against Indianapolis marked the fourth time this season that Collins played more than 30 snaps in a game. The extensive playing time came after he also started at left tackle in place of an injured Whitworth during the season opener at Chicago and in the 22-20 overtime loss at Miami on Halloween. He has played in 12 games total. Aside from the four starts he has made, Collins also played 26 snaps in the Monday night win over the Steelers and 25 more in relief of Whitworth during the 49-9 blowout over the Jets in October.
Of those six games he has enjoyed such action in, four have resulted in wins. The loss at Miami came on an overtime sack for a safety that was the result of a protection breakdown on the opposite side of the line. The loss at Chicago came after a 15-yard Bengals defensive penalty negated a punt that could have returned to set up a possible Bengals comeback drive.
In the six games Collins has played the most in, Dalton has been sacked seven times total. Five of those came against a Dolphins defense that was intent on pressuring the third-year quarterback the whole night. In three of the six games, Dalton was kept upright and didn't get sacked once. As for the ground game, the Bengals rushed for more than 150 yards in three of the six, specifically hitting 164 yards and 155 yards in the last two. They also have eight rushing scores in the six games.
"We all knew he had it in him," center Kyle Cook said of Collins. "He's a very athletic guy. He's had the ability to practice with the 1s at both [tackle] positions, right and left. So it wasn't like he's been around here all these years but he's never played. When Chicago came around, we knew he was going to be able to do it. It was like, 'If Whit can't go, no sweat. A.C.'s got it.'"
As long as the Bengals maintain that confidence in Collins across the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs, expect his addition to continue having a big impact on their offense.