Morning Stripes: Accessing A.C.'s matchup

Let's start by wishing you all a Happy Day-After Christmas. Hopefully you and your families had a fun and relaxing holiday wherever you are.

Now back to the Cincinnati Bengals ...

Anthony Collins, better known as A.C. by his teammates, has been one of the biggest unsung heroes this season.

In baseball, he'd be considered a utility player; one who may not start or play every day, but who can play anywhere against anybody and consistently deliver in the clutch.

For the Bengals this season, Collins has been a utility offensive lineman of sorts. He has played both tackle positions, and done so in midgame relief and as a starter only after being told midweek that he had better get mentally ready just in case they needed him. When the Bengals have needed him this season, he has shined.

According to Pro Football Focus, he hasn't given up a sack or quarterback hurry in 526 snaps this season. He also hasn't had a failing overall grade as a blocker all season by PFF. In other words, he's been pretty good.

Collins' biggest challenges this season have included stopping the likes of pass-rushers Julius Peppers, Robert Mathis and Jared Allen. None of those well-respected edge rushers got significant pressure on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton going against Collins. This weekend, Collins hopes to add Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil to that list when he starts at left tackle for the fourth straight game. Dumervil enters the regular-season finale tied for 20th in the league in sacks with 9.5.

Aside from two garbage-time sacks the Bengals surrendered in last Sunday's blowout win, Dalton has only been sacked once in the past five games. Six games ago, though, against Baltimore, he was wrestled to the ground five times.

The Collins-Dumervil matchup could be so big that we devoted the opening link in this post-Christmas edition of the Morning Stripes to it:

  • Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com has this expansive take on the Collins-Dumervil matchup and why he and others believe the backup lineman has what it takes to win it.

  • The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy was on a mission to find out why the Bengals have been able to flourish defensively despite all the reasons they shouldn't have. Despite losing their best two defensive players to season-ending injuries, the Bengals still could finish with a top-5 defense. Depth played a key role in that, but what else?

  • After capturing a third AFC North title and a third-straight playoff appearance, the Bengals are beginning to show that they may have finally made it. After years of trying to convince the rest of the NFL they were turning a corner, it appears they are finally on top of the football world. Given the relative youth of this franchise that has playmakers all over the offense and a defense that has a deep mix of veterans and players within the first four years of their careers, there really does seem to be a changing of the guard in the AFC North. Or at least, that's what this item by the Associated Press' Joe Key suggests.

Happy Holidays again, everyone. We'll have more here later Thursday.