Entering Cincinnati Bengals‘ training camp ahead of the 2012 NFL Regular Season, recent free agent addition Travelle Wharton was slated to be the team’s starting left guard. Not only did Wharton not start for the Bengals this season, he never even played a single snap in the regular season. Wharton, along with Kevin Zeitler, was expected to give the Bengals a second guard who could be effective as both a pass protector and run blocker. His season-ending knee injury took away any potential for him to be that guard, but the Bengals found another player to fill in his place effectively.
Clint Boling was a fourth round pick of the Bengals in 2011, but started just three games during his rookie season. At just 23, Boling was still considered a developmental prospect entering this season, hence the signing of Wharton, but he was pressed into action once the free agent signing from Carolina went out. Boling had a dominant debut against the Baltimore Ravens, as he started all 16 games during the regular season.
Along with Zeitler, Boling proved to be an excellent addition to the Bengals’ starting lineup. Both he and Zeitler played consistent, impactful and smart football to protect Andy Dalton and create running lanes for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Despite their relative youth, neither player made many mistakes and both quickly became pivotal pieces of Jay Gruden’s offensive ideology.
At least, until late in the regular season when Zeitler had his worst game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Boling’s form began to falter from Week 14 onwards. The Bengals still made their way to the playoffs and will face off against the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round this weekend. However, even though the Bengals continued to win games in spite of their two starting guards losing form, the duo must return to their early season play if the Bengals are to have any hope of advancing to the divisional round of the AFC playoff tree.
The Texans have a very talented all-around defense, but crucially their best player will spend a lot of time working against Zeitler and Boling. Defensive end JJ Watt hasn’t just had a dominant season for the Texans, he has had a dominant season for the ages. Despite being an interior lineman in a 3-4 defense, Watt came very close to setting a new sack record during the regular season, while he consistently destroyed double teams during the season both against the run and when chasing the quarterback.
Watt can’t be contained by anyone. Even when he is prevented from pressuring the quarterback, he still uses his awareness to knock down passes from the air with his huge wingspan. The impact of Watt swatting passes away is nowhere near as lethal as his consistent pressure and sacks are. However, in order to make Watt swat passes, he has to be contained by the offense’s guards and tackles. Even though the Bengals will double team him, both players have to be at their best to keep him away from the quarterback.
If either of Zeitler or Boling struggle this weekend, Watt will be able to take over the game and the Bengals will have no chance of getting revenge for last year’s loss in Texas.