Cincinnati has to be feeling a bit of deja vu entering the weekend.
For a second straight season, the Bengals are hosting a playoff game. And much like 2021, they'll play without one (or more) of their starting offensive linemen.
The total is two this time around, thanks to the unfortunate timing of guard Alex Cappa's ankle injury. Cappa suffered the injury in Cincinnati's Week 18 win over Baltimore, and on Wednesday, head coach Zac Taylor officially ruled out Cappa for their Super Wild Card Weekend rematch with the Ravens on Sunday.
Cappa joins tackle La'el Collins (season-ending knee injury) as the second Bengals starter to miss the first of what Cincinnati hopes will be multiple postseason games. Unlike Collins, Cappa hasn't yet been ruled out for the rest of the season, but their combined absences will mean the Bengals will be without both starters on the right side.
Last season, Cincinnati lost veteran tackle Riley Reiff in mid-December, creating a void that was impossible to ignore as the stakes grew higher. The Bengals threw every option they had at the right side of their line, turning to Hakeem Adeniji at right guard on Super Wild Card Weekend and in the Divisional Round -- both wins, despite the circumstances -- before opting to rotate in rookie Jackson Carman with Adeniji in the AFC Championship Game against Kansas City. Isaiah Prince manned right tackle; He is currently on Cincinnati's practice squad.
During this time, it became painfully evident the Bengals needed to invest in their offensive line. General manager Duke Tobin answered the call, targeting and signing Cappa, center Ted Karras and Collins, effectively reshaping Cincinnati's weakest position group before adding guard Cordell Volson in the fourth round of the 2022 draft. Injuries have again gotten in the way, though, putting Joe Burrow and the Bengals in a familiar place of pressure.
Pressure, of course, does not affect Burrow all that much. He did win a playoff game despite being sacked nine times by Tennessee.
Burrow will also still have his center, Karras, who is arguably the most important part of the offensive line. He'll be tasked with ensuring Cappa's replacement, four-year veteran Max Scharping, is ready to make his first start as a Bengal.
"The O-line is a continuity and repetition position," Karras said, via The Associated Press. "We've been repping all year, but it will be hard, especially to replace Alex because of our relationship, just how to ID the defense, how to distribute all our blockers. He's been a humongous help to me, saved me a few times over the season. So I had to step it up. Everyone's got to step it up. Max has a great opportunity in front of him, and I'm excited to see how he performs."
Consider Scharping as the new Adeniji in this scenario. The actual Adeniji will be right next to him, manning the right tackle position left vacant by Collins' season-ending injury.
"They've all been getting reps in all the things that we do and how we run them," offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. "At this point in the year, it's hard to introduce all kinds of shiny new things that are really going to change who you are. We're still going to be who we are as an offense and run a lot of the things that we've run and have had success with over the course of the season."
The timing couldn't be much worse for these changes. There's a bright side to this for the Bengals, though: The last time this happened, they reached the Super Bowl.