Will Jonah Williams be inspired by his new mates along the offensive line and how will the unit as a whole mesh when the bullets start flying for real this fall in front of Joe Burrow?
Those are arguably the two biggest questions for the 2022 Bengals as they continue their offseason workout program at Paul Brown Stadium.
Sure, we don’t know yet for sure who will be the starting left guard next to the projected starting left tackle.
But Williams acknowledged Tuesday that the results have to be better than 51 regular season sacks and 19 in the postseason. That just can’t happen in front of a quarterback who is set to receive a Patrick Mahomes-like contract after the last snap of the upcoming season.
“Of course, we didn’t play well enough,” Williams said Tuesday. “I think that’s pretty obvious when you look at the stats and you look at the outcome of the game.
“I think everyone in the locker room understands that and we know that we want to get to that stage again and we want to perform a lot better the next time that we’re there. So that’s our goal. That’s what we’re working toward.”
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) May 10, 2022
To help Williams and the offensive line work harder and better toward that goal, the Bengals spent $74 million in free agency on Alex Cappa, Ted Karras and La’el Collins to ensure better protection in front of their quarterback.
Their lone offensive pick out of six taken was offensive tackle Cordell Volson out of North Dakota State. The message is unmistakable: Joe Burrow needs better protection and the offensive line needs to impose its will.
There is a silver lining to what the Bengals and Burrow endured in their path to the Super Bowl. They faced four of the most fierce pass rushing units in football in the Raiders (Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue), Titans (Jeffery Simmons), Chiefs (Chris Jones, Frank Clark) and Rams (Aaron Donald and Von Miller).
Few teams have withstood that kind of gauntlet over four straight playoff games. And the Bengals came within a pass protection of Donald of making history.
“I think that kind of the stakes are raised every week that goes by,” Williams said in reflection. “We were in a position where we were fighting to make the playoffs toward the end of the year. And then suddenly we beat Kansas City at home, and we were division champs, and we were making it to the playoffs. And then from there, we were just stacking our chips, trying to keep on going.
“But as you do that, the level of competition rises. Everyone’s bringing their best. I don’t think we did enough to step up when we needed to. So that’s what’s we’re going to be doing this year — making sure that we do that and making sure that we lead our team to winning the Super Bowl this time.”
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) May 10, 2022
And to achieve that ultimate goal, the Bengals need a superior effort from the unit that has been bashed over and over, not just since the end of the Super Bowl but in the past five seasons. It is the roadblock that stands in the way of a team that is otherwise deserving of a championship.
It is the reason that five times in the Super Bowl the Bengals needed to make a yard and couldn’t. They got away with it in the regular season when Tyler Boyd drew a penalty in the end zone against the Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium.
But as if the football gods were offering a stern warning, Joe Burrow had his right knee twisted and Brandon Allen entered for the final snaps before Evan McPherson’s AFC North-clinching field goal.
“I mean, our goal is to be the best line in the league and to lead the offense to being the best offense in the league,” Williams reiterated Tuesday. “That was our goal every year, but this year, we know what the expectations are. We were able to make it to the Super Bowl last year and weren’t able to finish.
“This time, we know we can make it to the Super Bowl. But we can do it a lot better, and we can win when we get there. So, I think that’s the ceiling and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Williams is heading into his fourth season with the Bengals. As a first-round pick in 2019, he missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury in the offseason.
Still, the Bengals saw enough from Williams in his last two seasons to see an “ascending” player, as Zac Taylor called him recently. They picked up his guaranteed fifth-year option for 2023 (worth $12 million) and the Bengals are set at this position for at least the next two seasons.
Why the trust from the Bengals? Because Williams has shown more often than not he’s capable of handling the very best pass rushers in the game. Against Ngakoue in the playoff win over the Raiders, Pro Football Focus had him at a 77 grade with only one pass pressure allowed.
That was also his grade for the entire season. He was charged with eight sacks in 16 starts, not bad when you consider how many times Burrow dropped back to pass.
“Yeah, it means a lot to me,” Williams said. “I appreciate having at least two more seasons here to work with my teammates, the new guys we brought in. It just allows me to focus on this year.
“I want to treat every year like I’m going to play my absolute best regardless of my contract situation, but it does feel good to have that vote of confidence from the organization. I had confidence in my ability to play and I know that the organization believes in me and so I was excited when it happened, but I wasn’t super nervous about it.”
The words from Williams Tuesday were full of accountability. His actions – and those of his new linemates – will speak much louder this year.