The object of ridicule for nearly two years, the Bengals' offensive line has all of a sudden become one of the main reasons for Cincinnati's success. The revamped unit, which includes longtime Cowboys offensive tackle La'el Collins, has provided sterling protection for quarterback Joe Burrow while opening sizable running lanes for Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
Burrow was sacked just one time during Cincinnati's 27-24 win over Kansas City on Sunday night, a victory that propelled the Bengals to 8-4. With Mixon out with an injury, Perine rumbled for 102 yards on 21 carries as Cincinnati rolled up 431 total yards. Not bad production behind an offensive line that includes four new starters and was the target of criticism following Cincinnati's 0-2 start.
"It's a very special offensive line," Collins told CBS Sports following Sunday's win. "I've played on some really, really great ones. We've got a lot of work to do, but we've got a lot of great guys in the room that love football. When you've got guys that love ball, you're going to get the most out of those guys. We looking forward to going out there and playing because we've got such great coaches that prepare us the right way."
In Dallas, Collins was part of a line that also featured perennial Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick. In 2016, the unit helped Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott have breakout rookie seasons as the Cowboys put together one of the best regular seasons in franchise history. Elliott won a rushing title in 2016 and another in 2018 behind that line. During that same period, Prescott flourished into one of the NFL's premier quarterbacks.
Collins' success in Dallas was one of the things that compelled the Bengals to pursue him when he came available this offseason. Collins, longtime Patriots guard/center Ted Karras and former Buccaneers guard Alex Cappa were brought in this offseason to join rookie fourth-round pick Cordell Volson and 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams on the Bengals' starting offensive line.
It took several games, but the unit has developed into one of the league's most consistent units. The line has allowed just five sacks of Burrow during the Bengals' current four-game winning streak. While the line's success in pass protection has allowed Burrow to flourish, Cincinnati's running game has also taken off despite Mixon's recent absence. Over the past four games, the Bengals have rolled up 563 rushing yards for an average of nearly 141 yards per outing.
"When you have that kind of time in the pocket, it's hard not to find somebody open," said Burrow, who was sacked 70 times last season in the regular season and playoffs combined. "What else this has done is gotten us some more off-schedule opportunities. We're starting to be able to run the ball more now. If something's not open, I still have time to find an escape lane, get out of the pocket and try to make a play. I can't say enough about those guys."
Collins is also happy to play with Burrow, who recruited him to Cincinnati this offseason.
"He's one of the best that I've been around," said Collins, who played alongside Pro Bowlers Prescott and Tony Romo in Dallas. "The way that he does the things that he does, you can't replicate that. He's a special human being."
Collins attributes a lot of the unit's success to the coaching staff that includes head coach Zac Taylor and position coach Frank Pollack. He also raved about the atmosphere that currently exists inside the locker room.
"They're selfless. They care about us not only as players, but as people," Collins said. "I can't say enough about those guys. We have a great culture here. We have a great locker room. The guys love ball. If we continue to chip away, we're going to have a lot of great success."
Collins didn't hesitate when asked if he happy with his free agency decision.
"Absolutely," he said. "To me, I feel like this is meant to be. I can't be more thankful and more grateful for a better opportunity to be here right now with this team and everything that we have ahead of us. I'm just looking forward to it and I'm extremely blessed to be a part of this group."