CINCINNATI — There aren't many people willing to defend the Bengals offensive line after their performance so far this season.
It doesn't take a football expert to see how many times Joe Burrow has been hit. The Bengals lead the league in sacks allowed (14). The No. 1 pick is under pressure constantly and has rarely had a clean pocket to throw from.
Offensive line coach Jim Turner knows his unit has to play better, but that didn't stop him from defending the play of his starting right tackle.
"Out of all my players, Bobby Hart is the most underappreciated player and the most picked-on player by everybody from the media to whoever wants to talk football," Turner said Wednesday on a conference call. "It's like every pressure we've ever had gets blamed on that kid. Nobody has put more time or effort into our offense, like in preparation for the season and understanding his weaknesses and in training and getting himself ready to play for the season. You watch him play, right? He's played three solid games."
Hart certainly isn't a fan favorite in Cincinnati, but that has a lot to do with his play.
The 26-year-old has allowed 15 pressures in three games according to Pro Football Focus, which is the most allowed by a tackle in the NFL. He's also allowed 10 hurries, which is tied with Tyrus Howard for the most by a tackle.
Hart has been one of the worst tackles in the league. It's one thing to defend a player. It's another to go out on a limb and attack those that have been critical of his play.
"Bobby's playing the best football I've seen him play in his career right now," Turner continued. "I think mentally, he's a great place right now. I think he's unaffected by anything that's said about him, and I think he knows, like if you watch his side of the line, it's solid."
Turner did acknowledge that Hart's play needed to improve. He specifically said the sack Hart gave up at the end of Sunday's tie with the Eagles was unacceptable, but he spent most of the time defending his starting right tackle.
Backing your guy is one thing, but what Turner said was delusional. This coaching staff thought they could turn this group into a competent unit. What they've done the first three weeks of the season has been far from it.
Hart has been a huge part of the problem. No one should expect Turner to throw his starting tackle under the bus. That doesn't mean he should get a free pass either.
Turner is right. This is probably the best football that Hart has played. He's still among the league leaders or leading the league in sacks allowed, pressures given up and quarterback hurries.
He isn't a quality starting tackle in the NFL. Pretending like that's the case makes it seem like Turner and the Bengals are living in a fantasy world.
Is some of the criticism unfair? Maybe. But he was awful when he got to Cincinnati in 2018 and his play didn't improve last season. Even if he's slightly better in 2020, that doesn't mean he's a competent starting tackle.
Defenses across the league know they should attack the right side of the Bengals offensive line. Part of that has to do with starting guard Xavier Su'a-Filo being on injured reserve. One injury can't derail an entire side of your line. If it does, then how good was the group in the first place?
Hart has played with three different right guards next to him this season. That number could grow to four on Sunday against the Jaguars.
"He's got a revolving door over there," Turner said about the right guard spot. "It hasn't always been easy for him as far as who he's playing next to. So, I'm very comfortable with the way he's playing. I am not worried about Bobby Hart."
Turner might be the only one that's comfortable with the Bengals' starting right tackle.
Listen to some of Turner's comments below. For more on the Bengals, including the latest NFL news, go here!