After losing the Super Bowl to the Los Angeles Rams, the Cincinnati Bengals took on a clear task. Protecting quarterback Joe Burrow. Three free agent signings later, the Bengals were well on their way to graduating from feel-good story to contender for years to come.
But fast forward to two weeks into the season, and the main task for the Bengals is… protecting quarterback Joe Burrow. “But why?” is the question fans and media have asked, knowing that the team added La’el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras to the team in order to complete such a task.
This was supposed to go from team weakness to team strength!
But as we wrote on August here on A to Z Sports Cincinnati, pass protection is about much more than talent up front. The Bengals’ offense has mightily struggled with scheme, whether it’s a lack of design in the hot route world or a lack of problem-solving when facing specific situations.
While people think this is all about Burrow holding on to the football for too long (which in certain situations, it’s true) it’s more about the design of the offense than anything else.
If you need an example, think back to Joe Burrow telling Zac Taylor to stop running empty sets (where the pass pro world becomes more complicated). Part of this whole thing is on the offensive line, part of it on Joe Burrow, and part of it on poor offensive design.
So when we discuss the Bengals’ priority of protecting Joey B, we’re not talking about the linemen winning their blocks. We’re talking about putting Burrow and his weapons in a position to succeed.
Consider what NFL analyst and former pro quarterback David Carr had to say on the matter in a recent article for the league’s website:
“To fix their offensive woes, the Bengals must start helping Burrow out by moving the pocket. The easiest way to do that is through play-action, but this is something the Bengals use very little of. Burrow has used play-action on only 13.7 percent of his dropbacks this season, fifth-lowest in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. Last year, his play-action rate was 18.7 percent, fourth-lowest league-wide.”
As I read Carr’s words on such a simple solution (among many), I couldn’t help thinking about Taylor’s words earlier in the week. Believe it or not, the Bengals head coach said that he’d rather find rhythm on offense than make Burrow comfortable. But don’t those, you know, go together?
“It is ironic, given that he was plucked off the Kyle Shanahan-Sean McVay coaching tree,” writes Carr, “but Taylor’s offense relies on dropback pass scenarios, with three-wide receiver sets used to spread the field. Taylor is constantly looking to push the ball vertically with a trio of talented wideouts”
Finally, Carr reaches a conclusion that’s difficult to ignore and fits with the offseason conversation we had in August. This is primarily on Bengals HC Zac Taylor.
“Based on the numbers, it would seem there are things Taylor could do to make life easier for the offense. Until Taylor implements some more QB-friendly tactics, I fear Burrow will continue to struggle behind an offensive line still learning to work together and protect him.”
It’s crazy to say this two weeks into a season in which the Bengals carry the title of “AFC Champions,” but this coaching staff was on the hot seat at the beginning of 2021. Now that we’re aware of the potential of the players on the roster, we can’t ignore that Taylor must adapt quickly.
Right now, there’s no other way around it. The offensive coaches are not putting the Bengals in a position to succeed. It’s time to figure it out.
You can read Carr’s full article here.
Featured image via Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK