In a recent interview with the NFL Network’s Albert Breer, the Baltimore Ravens‘ reigning defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs stated the left tackle was no longer the most important piece of the offensive line in today’s NFL. Instead, Suggs claimed the center had become much more important because of all the responsibilities that come with that position. He didn’t know it, but at the same time that footage came out, the division rival Cincinnati Bengals were proving his thesis.
Over the past three games for the Bengals, quarterback Andy Dalton has played his best football of the season. Dalton has accounted for 10 touchdowns and no turnovers, while completing 55 of 89 passing attempts and throwing for 639 yards.
The Bengals are unbeaten during that spell, having beaten the New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. Dalton’s upturn in form could conceivably be solely down to his own individual performance, but a combination of improved pass protection and better play from his receivers has shown up on tape.
The emergence of Mohamed Sanu has been a much talked about aspect of Dalton’s revival, but maybe more significant has been the play of new starting center Trevor Robinson. The undrafted rookie has started the past four games, but he missed time in the first game through injury.
That means he has been the full-time starter in the middle of the offensive line during the Bengals’ recent run. Outside of moving Robinson into the lineup, the Bengals haven’t altered their offensive line at all, yet they have been getting much improved play at the position.
Dalton has been sacked a total of four times during the past three games, but one of those sacks was on running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, while another came when Dalton left the pocket too early and was tracked down in the flat. Considering the Bengals had to deal with the Giants’ talented group of pass rushers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali of the Chiefs and an impressive rotation upfront for the Raiders, there is no denying the high quality pass protection that the line has provided in recent times.
Prior to Robinson becoming a full-time starter, the Bengals gave up 22 sacks in eight games. Only twice did they avoid giving up a single sack in games, against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers, and they gave up at least four sacks in three games. It is often overlooked because of his outstanding rookie season, but Dalton remains a very young quarterback to this point.
Taking away the responsibility of setting pass protections, or simply giving him a center he trusts more than Jeff Faine, has obviously helped Dalton dramatically after playing the beginning of the season without Kyle Cook. Losing Cook obviously rocked the offense, but the return of Robinson has significantly improved the pass protection.
Maybe Suggs has a point…