Guest Columnist Cian Fahey of BleacherReport.com takes a look at one of the most underrated players in the NFL—Cincinnati Bengal offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth.

With the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers facing off in a crucial AFC North clash this weekend, it is worth taking a look at one of the crucial figures that will decide the game in greater detail.

Few Steelers fans, and probably not all Bengals’ fans, will know that much about Andrew Whitworth.

Whitworth is the Bengals’ left tackle that will be assigned the role of protecting Andy Dalton’s blindside from James Harrison, who had three sacks last week against the Baltimore Ravens and forced a fumble.

In what has become a passing league, the left tackle position is more in the spotlight than ever.

While Jake Long and Joe Thomas are regularly touted as the best blindside protectors in the league, Andrew Whitworth is often overlooked despite being a star in Cincinnati.

Here is what the tale of the tape says on the sixth year veteran:


Quick off the line:

The first thing you notice about Whitworth is the very first thing he does. Whitworth is one of the fastest left tackles off the line of scrimmage that I have seen. Only fractions separate him from Jake Long, who is the fastest player off the line I’ve ever seen, and Michael Oher, during his rookie season and not so much since.

As I watched Whitworth during this year, he was only beaten twice from the off. One of those plays was the only sack that Whitworth has allowed this season.

Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, John Chick beat Whitworth off the line on a 3rd and 14 play to sack Dalton. Whitworth pled with the official to say that Chick was offside. He wasn’t but no defender could ever have timed his jump as well as Chick did. If he had been a millisecond early, he would have been offside. Whitworth still came close to preventing the sack which was phenomenal considering how fast Chick actually was.

The second occasion Whitworth was beaten was by rookie Von Miller. Miller moved like Usain Bolt off the edge and Whitworth got nowhere near him, but neither would have any other offensive tackle in the league.
Footwork:

Footwork is vital for any blindside protector in the NFL. Whitworth’s whole game hinges on his excellent base and feet movement.

He shows great balance no matter the situation, using his feet expertly to set a proper base to gain leverage against his defender. He never gives his assignment an opportunity to get a clear run at the quarterback as he makes sure that he is always between the ball and the defender.

He has faced many speed rushers this year, Von Miller and Dwight Freeney for example, who got nothing trying to rush down the outside. Whitworth uses his agility and quick feet to push defenders past the quarterback or simply stick with them preventing them from making plays when they try to make a second move.

The notable thing however is that he does not expose himself to a spin move or bull rush inside when he does this. Whitworth’s feet are so quick that he does not have to extend himself to beat the defender to the point of attack. He always appears to be playing the game as if it were flag football and is totally relaxed.

Not once through the whole tape did he ever really panic in protection. His footwork allows him to do that because his balance is perfect at all times.

No speed rusher was ever able to cut inside or bull rush through him as he backtracked because he always had his feet perfectly set underneath him to put him in the best position to control his assignment.

Shifting his weight and being in control of his centre of gravity is something that Whitworth excels at as well as any other tackle I have ever seen. It allows him to absorb hits despite not being the biggest tackle in the league.


Hand Placement and Arm Strength:

Whitworth has been called for holding only once this season, against the Seattle Seahawks, and it is no surprise.

He keeps his hands high and is never caught by surprise by his defender. Somewhat unconventionally, Whitworth loves to initiate contact rather than keep the defender’s hands away from his own by punching and moving.

This is due to his large wingspan, 35½ inch arms, and strong arms. Once locked in with a defender, there is no chance that that defender will break free. He never aggressively attacks defenders or looks to blow them to the ground, instead preferring to hold the point of attack and remain in control to give him no chance of making a play.

He is able to do this because not one single defender was ever able to free themselves from his arms once locked in. On more than one occasion, Dwight Freeney used his celebrated spin move but Whitworth simply held his stance and allowed Freeney to spin in his chest which essentially nullified any potential effect Freeney was going to have on the play.


Run Blocking Technique:

The Bengal is an enigmatic run blocker on the whole. His technique is impressive however.

The Bengals running game is concentrated to the right hand side for the most part, which is no surprise considering the bulk of Andre Smith.

Whitworth doesn’t possess the same bulk or strength but does seal defenders well on the outside as well as being a good blocker in the screen game.

He doesn’t tip the play on screens also, which is an underrated aspect of offensive line play. Once locked in on a defender, he won’t let him free but neither will he be blowing holes open or making impact blocks down the field.

 

Run Blocking Strength:

Whitworth gets to the second level a lot when the Bengals run the ball, however that is more by design than any special talent. He struggles to get to the quicker linebackers and secondary players when sent inside but excels when the Bengals run swing passes outside him.

He will never be a blocker that the team looks to run behind on the goalline, however he knows how to use space to his advantage and trap defenders when he is asked to.

His lack of upper body bulk makes him a limited run blocker but the Bengals do not ask him to be a key part of their rushing attack.

What makes Whitworth a star as a pass protector limits him as a mauler in the running game, but the Bengals use him effectively by allowing him to move his feet and use his mobility laterally.

He doesn’t get any sort of push off the line of scrimmage. His mobility is what makes him valuable in both facets of the game.

 

Immeasurables:

Whitworth’s consistency as a pass protector is unwavering. His concentration on his footwork and understanding of his assignment reduces the potential for any mistakes on every play.

His awareness and vision is unbelievable. He is constantly aware of his surroundings without allowing it to affect whatever task he is undertaking. He seamlessly passes on stunts and is never unnerved by what the defense does.

Many teams attempted to confuse Whitworth, rather than beat him one on one, with feigned blitzes and late blitzers from deep. Whitworth never fell for any of them. He frustrated the Tennessee Titans so much that they essentially abandoned the idea of pressuring Andy Dalton’s blindside at all from midway through the third quarter to the end of the game.

Like most of his flaws, Whitworth’s mental issues come in the running game.

Often times he is hesitant and lacks the aggression to be a great run blocking tackle such as Jason Peters in Philadelphia. It isn’t that much of a surprise because he is not physically built like Peters or a Flozell Adams.
With the Cincinnati Bengals facing off against the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday, the clash between Andrew Whitworth and James Harrison doesn’t only feature one elite player at his respective position.

Andrew Whitworth is one of the best left tackles in the NFL. The truth is he is only not constantly considered one because he plays in Cincinnati and wasn’t a top ten pick.

He was a second round pick for those of you wondering.