The Cincinnati Bengals fading playoff hopes came to an abrupt end on Sunday. The team would have to run the table at this point and still need some help, but the injury to Joe Burrow brings up some major concerns going forward for the team. With a torn ACL, MCL, PCL, (insert letter of the alphabet)CL and the benefit of hindsight, what should have come first? The Franchise Quarterback or the Offensive Line?
At this moment, few people feel worse about Burrow’s injury than his Offensive Line (OL). As a member of the no ACL club I cannot bring myself to watch any more replays. Despite this being a bit of a freak accident that’s just football, protecting Burrow has always been an issue for the Bengals. The problem is that the OL just isn’t good, but in the Front Office’s defense it isn’t from a lack of effort. Prior to drafting Burrow first overall, the Bengals used their first round picks in 2018 & ’19 to draft offensive lineman. Jonah Williams, drafted 11th overall in 2019 is essentially a rookie this season after season-ending shoulder injury prior to last season. Billy Price (21st overall, ’18) has yet to live up to expectations, losing his job to Trey Hopkins, and now sits second on the team’s depth chart.
The glaring weakness on the OL should come as no surprise to anyone. The Bengals came into the 2020 season with the 31st ranked OL according to Pro Football Focus. Their top rated player on the line, Trey Hopkins came into the season ranked 24th at his position. It’s hard to imagine that the far superior football minds that run actual teams wouldn’t know this or at least be cognizant of it, so why are the Bengals so pass happy?
The Bengals throw the ball on 63.79% of their plays, ranking third in the NFL behind only the Bears and the Jaguars; what a list. Burrow has attempted at least 30 passes in every single one of his games this season, topping out at 61 in Week 2 against the Browns. I can understand that he is your shinny new toy and he is the focal point of the offense, but you still need to protect him. Trotting out a rookie QB to throw 30+ times a week behind an OL that is in the conversation for worst in the league doesn’t seem like the most logical approach. The injury to Joe Mixon did not help the situation as it probably forced the team to throw more often than they would like. However, at a certain threshold the coaches should have known that they were tempting fate by putting Burrow in the position to be hit so often.
The perfect example in recent memory of how to build an OL first is the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately they too had their season derailed by a Dak leg injury, but he still benefitted from strong OL play early in his career. Playing behind what was the best OL in the league for a couple of years, Prescott was able to work through a lot of rookie tendencies and issues in his game to become what he is now. Burrow on the other hand was immediately thrown to the wolves and told to run fast.
This is not to say that Burrow should have been benched this year, or until the team built an OL. Handing the keys to the offense to Burrow right away made sense, but making sure he stays healthy is clearly the priority. Given their division it would be hard to imagine that the Bengals thought they had made a legitimate push for the playoffs this year, so what was the rush with Burrow?
I would never argue that Andy Dalton is a better QB, but if Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers can sit for a year, why couldn’t Joe take some time behind Dalton? This would’ve given the team some additional time to build a wall in front of Burrow. Well now they can with Joe’s 2021 season now in Jeopardy (R.I.P. Mr. Trebek).
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