Potential Andre Smith Loss Puts Pressure on Kevin Zeitler and Andy Dalton

By Cian Fahey
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Every NFL team is made up of different pieces. There are countless personnel involved when you combine the 53 players on the field with everyone off of it. Those players follow different philosophies and play-calls, while every single one of the 32 organizations will have a unique approach to how their franchise is run.

The constant on the field on Sundays is that each team has strengths and weaknesses. A team such as the Green Bay Packers will always rely on the strength of Aaron Rodgers to cover any of the cracks in their offense, while a team such as the Pittsburgh Steelers has historically based their success on the strength of their defense.

In 2012, the Cincinnati Bengals were one of the most balanced teams in the league. They definitely relied slightly more on their eighth ranked defense, but the 12th best scoring offense in the league offered more than enough balance for the franchise to boast about. Statistics don’t always represent on-field play, but in this instance they certainly did.

There are no statistics to dive deeper into the Bengals’ projected strengths entering next season. The roster hasn’t changed dramatically, after an off-season with an inward focus, but as things currently stand things could alter notably. The most significant change is set to come at right tackle, where the departed Andre Smith still hasn’t decided on the next chapter of his career.

If the Bengals don’t re-sign Smith or add another free agent from elsewhere to replace him, their excellent offensive line from last season will put through a stress test. Dennis Roland and Anthony Collins would be in position to compete for Smith’s starting spot, but neither would offer the talent and production that Smith did.

Smith and Andrew Whitworth were the leading strengths for the Bengals on the offensive line last year. Their ability to handle pass rushers individually afforded the Bengals’ interior linemen the flexibility to concentrate on the interior without worrying about offering help on the edges. With Whitworth still offering that trait on the blindside, starting left guard Clint Boling will be free to aid whoever starts at center as he did last season.

Center was a troublesome position for the Bengals, but because both Kyle Cook and Trevor Robinson were surrounded by four high quality performers, they were rarely asked to overextend themselves. The Bengals never had to slide their coverage one way or ask their center to take on pass rushers without any help.

The Bengals relied on their strengths at guard and tackle to compensate for their weakness at center.

That will continue on the left side of the line this season, but a huge amount of pressure is going to be put on second year right guard Kevin Zeitler in 2013 if Smith leaves. Zeitler was very impressive as a rookie, but he undoubtedly benefited from playing inside of Smith. He often double teamed on defensive tackles or nose tackles with his center in the running game or received help from his center in pass blocking situations.

If a soft spot develops outside of Zeitler, the Bengals will have to find different ways to adjust. Additional tight end and running-back support can often fix a slight mismatch, but if the situation calls for more, Zeitler could be expected to step wider with his tackle and concentrate more on edge rushers’ inside shoulders. That will expose the Bengals’ center and ask Zeitler to do more than most guards can.

Much like the New Orleans Saints have done in recent seasons, the Bengals could look to their strengths at the guard positions and ask their quarterback to play much faster in order to compensate for a liability in pass protection.

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