Bengals show they have lot of work to do to better protect Joe Burrow in 2021

CINCINNATI -- The worst thing that happened in the Cincinnati Bengals' loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday wasn't the scuffle between the teams, the five combined ejections or the outcome itself.

No, it was a potentially serious injury to yet another promising young player.

Starting left tackle Jonah Williams, the 11th overall pick of the 2019 draft, went down after another player rolled over the back of his legs in the fourth quarter. For the second time in the past three games, one of the key pieces of the franchise's rebuild was carted off the field with a left knee injury. Williams' incident was very similar to the one in which rookie quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending left knee injury against Washington on Nov. 22.

The extent of Williams' injury was unknown as of Monday. But even if Williams doesn't miss a game, the fact it occurred further underscored Cincinnati's problems with its offensive line and why it must be addressed during the offseason.

"It wasn't good enough [Sunday]," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said on Monday. "Each guy had their error there to put pressure on the quarterback and give up a sack and that's not the way we can play. That was a tough look for us [Sunday]."

Against the Dolphins, the Bengals surrendered six sacks, including one that kept quarterback Brandon Allen from finishing the game after he had the wind knocked out of him. Any severe injury to Williams will be another big blow to the rebuilding project.

Williams could potentially be the long-term left tackle Cincinnati (2-9-1) has been looking for since Andrew Whitworth was not re-signed after the 2015 season. Burrow was the top overall pick in 2020 and is still expected to be the franchise quarterback if he makes a full recovery as expected.

Both of those key pieces were put in risk because of shaky play from an offensive line that was a major question mark entering the season. In 2019, the Bengals were ranked next-to-last in Pass Block Win Rate, an ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen.

After Sunday's game, Cincinnati has now allowed 44 sacks in 2020, the second-highest total this season. To compound problems, it appears the Bengals are now facing a lot of uncertainty about how to proceed moving forward.

Cincinnati is struggling to find a combination of guards that works. The Bengals have cycled through nearly every available option in an effort to find a solution.

Starting left guard Michael Jordan was benched for the final drive against the Dolphins and replaced by Xavier Su'a-Filo, an offseason addition who hasn't been able to crack the starting lineup since returning from a Week 1 ankle injury.

Earlier in the week, Taylor told the Bengals' website Jordan needed a break after the loss to Washington and injury to Burrow, which occurred after Jordan was driven back into the quarterback. But at the end of Sunday's game, Taylor was forced to swap Su'a-Filo for Jordan, a favorite of assistant coach Jim Turner.

"We had to look at some things in that last drive," Taylor said. "He had given up a couple of pressures and sacks there. It was time to do something different."

If the Bengals thought they had a long-term fix at the guard spots, that is now fully in question with Jordan's repeated benching and the constant rotation on the right side.

The offensive line's susceptibility apparently hasn't been lost on opponents. Last week, Dolphins linebacker Kyle Van Noy repeatedly said he was going to have a big day against the Bengals.

"I just said I'm about to get a three piece today," Van Noy said Nov. 30 on The Pat McAfee Show, referencing a three-sack performance. Sure enough, Van Noy accomplished that feat.

Throughout his tenure, Taylor has backed Turner and the offensive line. But after another bad outing that put a first-round pick at risk, there will again be serious questions about the Bengals' offensive front and the franchise's ability to protect Burrow in 2021.

The next four games will tell Cincinnati exactly where it stands as it enters another crucial offseason.

"Every week it seems like it's a new group out there working together," Taylor said. "That's a challenge and that's something that we're going to have to keep working through this week."