Bengals offensive line shows steady improvement

Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (25) looks onto the field as rain falls during Cincinnati Bengals training camp practice.Photo: Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY NE

The revamped offensive line has done its job blocking effectively and the Cincinnati Bengals are 2-0.

The blocking helped running back Joe Mixon shine in the first two games, but heading into a Week 3 visit to the Carolina Panthers, the answer to who gets touches while Mixon recovers from knee surgery is Giovani Bernard.

Mixon underwent the surgery Saturday and the Bengals anticipate it will be two to four weeks before he returns. Mixon rushed for 95 yards in Indianapolis and added 84 more on Thursday against Baltimore before being hurt.

Mixon left the game in the first half but returned in the fourth quarter.

Bernard ceded his primary back role to Mixon and barely touched the ball in the first two games.

Still, unlike some teams when comes to back-ups, the Bengals know what they possess in Bernard, a reliable two-way threat since entering the league in 2013 as a second-round pick.

Bernard rushed for at least 680 yards in each of his first three seasons. He had 458 yards and two rushing touchdowns in 2017.

Bernard also is a dangerous pass receiver, making at least 39 receptions in each of his five seasons, including a career-best 56 as a rookie.

Those numbers are what the Bengals hope to eventually see out of Mixon, whose talent was compared to the likes of Todd Gurley II and Le'Veon Bell by teammates last week.

"I think he's really unique physically and to be able to do that (with) his stature, to play the way he plays," offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said of Bernard. "He finishes runs, he doesn't go out of bounds. He doesn't go down easy."

Regardless of how many rushing yards are gained or how the ground game is deployed, the offensive line is coming off a banner showing. For the first time in 22 games, they did not yield a sack, seeing all the talk of a revived line come to fruition.

It showed some encouraging signs in Week 1, allowing only two sacks, but this time it took a major step forward. In fact, it was so effective the Ravens ditched their aggressive tendencies to a more cautious strategy of rushing four and dropping seven players back in coverage.

"They keep grinding, they keep getting better," head coach Marvin Lewis said of the offensive line. "Luckily they can't read. They just focus on football and getting better."

And with two performances like this, they can put the gory details of last season in the rearview mirror.

Last year, at this point the Bengals produced the following: 258 total yards, 3.5 yards per rush, eight of 28 third downs, eight sacks allowed, an average of six yards per throw.

This season is the first time in team history they have scored at least 34 points in the first two games. In doing so, the Bengals are averaging 351 yards per game, 4.4 yards per rush, and have converted nine of 21 first downs while allowing two sacks.

"Says a lot about us as a unit," right tackle Bobby Hart said after Cincinnati limited Terrell Suggs to three batted down passes. "Our coaching, our preparation, how far we can go. The ceiling we have going forward everybody doing the things they are coached to do, believing in each other. The sky is the limit."

If the Bengals can repeat what they did in the first two weeks against Carolina, they will be 3-0 for the 11t time in team history.

SERIES HISTORY: 6th regular season meeting. Series tied, 2-2-1. Carolina won the first two, Cincinnati won the next two and the teams played to a 37-37 tie in Cincinnati in 2014. In the last meeting, kicker Mike Nugent missed a 36-yard field goal on the last play of overtime. Giovani Bernard reeled off an 89-yard touchdown run.