Are Bengals protecting Joe Burrow better after offseason O-line overhaul?

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals center Ted Karras didn't sugarcoat it.

After the Bengals were walloped on Monday Night Football, surrendering five sacks in a 32-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Karras acknowledged what went well.


"I didn't think we executed at any level, any unit," Karras said Thursday. "Obviously, not good enough to win a Monday Night game. Kind of a disappointing effort, ultimately, that has us in a hole in the division."

Karras was part of an overhauled offensive line designed to be better after it struggled mightily last season, especially in the postseason. At roughly the halfway point of the season, the 2022 version has not been an improvement so far.

"I think it's been OK," Karras said. "Enough to go four and four. I'm not going to sit here and say we're world beaters. But we've been getting better."

This offseason, the Bengals signed three new starters -- Karras, right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle La'el Collins. Rookie Cordell Volson, a fourth-round pick out of North Dakota State, quickly won the starting job at left guard during camp. The four joined left tackle Jonah Williams, a former first-round pick who had his fifth-year option picked up this offseason, to form this year's group.

On paper, the unit was supposed to get better. But the metrics suggest the opposite.

At this point last season, the Bengals had allowed 20 sacks and ranked 23rd in pass block win rate, an ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen.

Cincinnati is worse in those metrics after eight games in 2022. The Bengals have surrendered 30 sacks, the second-highest total in the NFL, and are 30th in pass block win rate.

The recent loss to the struggling Browns (3-5) added more data points against Cincinnati's pass blocking. Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett, one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, had 1.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and a pass deflection that resulted in an interception.

That's what the numbers will say. But other key voices on the team, including quarterback Joe Burrow and coach Zac Taylor, have complimented how well the offense line has played at times this season.

In Week 7 against the Atlanta Falcons, the Bengals had an offensive masterclass in a 35-17 win. Burrow threw for 481 yards and three touchdowns, one of the best games of the season. At the beginning of his postgame news conference, Taylor quickly launched into praise for the offensive line on a day when Cincinnati was brazen about its pass-heavy attentions.

"It was drop back and protect, and our guys answered the bell today," Taylor said.

Ten days and a loss later, Taylor was more muted with his praise for the offensive line. He said the group was doing a "great job," citing the team's communication, protection and the camaraderie.

Burrow, who never publicly criticized the unit last year, even after he was sacked 19 times in four playoff games, gave the offensive line a vote of confidence as well.

"We've got great guys up front," Burrow said Thursday. "And they've played well for us. I have all of the trust in the world in those guys and they trust me. We're going to keep getting better each week."

Cincinnati went with a cost-effective approach in fixing the offensive line for 2022. The trio of Karras, Cappa and Collins and received a combined $21 million in guaranteed money, with Cappa ($11 million) receiving the bulk of that, according to Roster Management System. To put that in perspective, the Miami Dolphins gave offensive tackle Terron Armstead more than $43 million in guaranteed money to fix its offensive line.

The group has shown some flashes and improved throughout the course of the season. This weekend, the Carolina Panthers brings a good defensive front into Paycor Stadium (1 p.m. ET, Fox). With the Bengals' playoff chances now requiring little margin for error, Karras knows what the stakes are for the offensive line.

"I think we feel great as a unit as far as communication, as far as having a feel for the guys around us," Karras said. "But we're going to need to play our best down the stretch here when it counts the most."