CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor told reporters he is confident right tackle La’el Collins will be ready to go Sunday against the New York Jets, despite missing two practices this week because of a back issue.
Collins was a limited participant Friday, exiting mid-practice on the back of an equipment cart, but Taylor said the staff is just managing him through the situation. He remains “optimistic” Collins will play.
Injuries have been a concern with Collins in the past, and the back issue was something that caused him to miss the majority of training camp. The Bengals signed the former Dallas tackle this offseason as the marquee addition to the overhauled offensive line that has yet to live up to expectations while Joe Burrow has taken 13 sacks through two games and the running game has gone nowhere.
Taylor has said all along that Collins’ delayed start to training camp wasn’t a concern.
However, Collins has struggled in pass blocking so far, allowing one sack, two hits and six pressures, according to PFF.com, and the Bengals haven’t run behind him enough to see a difference in that regard. His absence, if not available Sunday, would be felt on an offensive line that has depth concerns, though. Burrow believes the offensive line is coming together and developing the right chemistry to be effective after a short period of time together with no preseason games to get snaps next to one another.
“Very comfortable,” Burrow said when asked about how comfortable he is with the offensive line. “Those guys are working hard to get it right. I can do a lot more to help them too. And we can do more with play-calling to help them as well. We’re getting this thing right, no one is panicking.”
Burrow has emphasized the need to be balanced this season in order to keep defenses honest, but it’s not like Cincinnati hasn’t tried that.
The running game just hasn’t been productive – even against a light box while teams are trying to limit the opportunities to get beat by Ja’Marr Chase in a Tampa 2 scheme. With 46 carries, Joe Mixon led the league in rush attempts through Week 2, but he’s 45th in yards per attempt (3.0).
Collins, right guard Alex Cappa and center Ted Karras have all been above average in run-blocking grades, according to PFF.com, but the breakdowns have occurred on the left side, where Jonah Williams and rookie Cordell Volson have been below average.
“There’s opportunities,” Taylor said. “There are times when you’re going to get more single high looks when teams are stressed against you where those runs pop for bigger gains. I know it’s a softer box when teams play Tampa 2, but it’s a little more difficult to get those explosive runs. There are a lot of great things that can happen when you can score early and play with a lead. We look forward to putting our best foot forward and trying to experience that in the near future.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said it can take time with a new offensive line to figure out what runs will work best, and that could be part of the struggles.
Williams echoed that.
“I think that we’ve been good in the run game minus the negative plays,” Williams said. “I feel like we’re there plus five or minus five, so we’ve got to take out the minus-fives and have more plus-fives.”
Williams didn’t have much else to say aside from the need for better execution as the team tries to find those right runs. It gets perhaps a little more difficult without run-blocking tight end Drew Sample, who is out for several months because of a knee injury suffered at Dallas, but Taylor is counting on Mitchell Wilcox and Devin Asiasi stepping up in his absence.
The Jets rank 21st against the run through two games, allowing 123.5 rushing yards per game, and if the Bengals can figure it out in the ground attack, that could be what is needed to spark the offensive line in the passing game as well.
“I think you can impose your will a little bit when you’re coming downhill and attacking people in the run game,” Taylor said. “It’s also as you get a lead and you feel the defense start to wear down. Yeah sure, the offense is getting worn out as well, but their confidence continues to spike as they continue to see what it’s doing to the other team. That’s where a lot of the big runs that pop (come), when you got a lead later in the game and you’re really grinding on a team. There’s a lot of things, that again, in this early part of the season, we look forward to getting an opportunity to showcase some of that.”
Bengals at Jets, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 1530, 102.7, 104.7