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Bengals Week 5 rookie report: Ravens officially welcome Joe Burrow to the NFL

A predictably tough game proved to be too much for the first-overall pick.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

I’d like everyone reading this who is able to comment down below when they knew. The game itself lasted a little under three hours, and I have a feeling everyone’s answer is much earlier than that.

When did you realize that Joe Burrow, for the first time on an NFL field, was rattled?

There are plenty of potential answers, and frankly, there isn’t one right one. The only thing that matters is that the end result is still the end result.

Let’s talk about it.

The Burrow Breakdown, Vol. 5

The Ravens did whatever they wanted to against Burrow. It was known going into this game that defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is one of the more blitz-happy defensive minds in the league, and he doesn’t just dial up slot blitzes and simple tackle-end stunts. The Ravens can confuse the Hell out of experienced quarterbacks and competent offensive lines with their delayed twists and zone blitzes.

Now throw a rookie quarterback and a bad offensive line out there. The outcome was not too surprising.

Burrow has faced ample amounts of pressure this season, but this was so visibly different. He was missing obvious pre-snap disadvantages with his protection and on the few times where he was more responsible for the pressure allowed, he made matters worse by putting the ball on the ground.

The amount of hits and sacks he took in this game is large enough to warrant its own article, which will be posted on Wednesday in The Weekly Lineman. But again, Burrow has taken hits and sacks in a Bengals uniform before and still managed to keep the offense afloat. This time, he looked shook when trying to extend plays and making throws with a defender present near his base. There’s ample room to argue about his receivers not getting open or the play-calling not utilizing them with effective-enough route concepts. Those points can hide this plain-and-simple fact:

The Ravens flustered Burrow. Completely, undoubtably, flustered him.

This was the game many feared would happen this year. It did happen, and the best news is that it’s over.

It’s not easy to find the positives from this heaping pile of trash, but there were a few throws from Burrow that stood out.

EPA/Play: 2.23

What’s been lost in the fallout of Sunday’s 24-point bludgeoning was that Burrow’s 63.3% completion percentage wasn’t too far off from what his expected completion% was. When Burrow actually got rid of the ball, he was still pretty accurate considering the circumstances.

Tyler Boyd saw a ton of Marlon Humphrey in the slot, and on one of the few times he had leveraged himself somewhat open on a 10-yard out route, Burrow hit him in stride from the far hash with a perfect ball to convert a third down. That may’ve been Burrow’s best throw of the day, but the strike over linebacker L.J. Forte over the middle to Tee Higgins can be considered the most precise one. And how about Joe Mixon getting a back-shoulder wheel route of his own on fourth down?

The throws to Boyd and Mixon were two of the three Burrow threw in the intermediate-left portion of the field. He was three-for-three for 39 yards and earned a 88.3 passing grade from Pro Football Focus targeting that area.

To reiterate, for the negative side of things, we don’t need to look at numerous examples of Burrow losing awareness of the rush or getting sacked eight trillion times. But, of course, we have to at least examine the interception.

EPA/Play: -1.63

Technically, the Bengals had the blocking advantage on the interception. It’s not much of a victory when one rusher goes untouched and charges into the quarterback’s face, but Burrow wouldn’t clear out the backfield if he didn’t think all six of those pre-snap rushers weren’t coming.

He was right. His line was not based on how they reacted. That’s a hard protection to call or adjust when the play clock is winding down, but that’s the nature of being a rookie against a defense like this.

At the end of the day, you can’t throw that ball unless the intended receiver is completely open. The risk of interception is far too high and a sack is always a better option when a completion isn’t possible.

The play beforehand is equally as confusing. Why did it look like Burrow sprinted out to his right when the offensive line didn’t follow him. When he bailed unbeknown to his blockers, he created the pressure on him as he overthrew to A.J. Green and miss Joe Mixon in the flat.

Speaking of missing Mixon, who knows how many yards he would’ve gotten if Burrow threw him a catchable ball there.

Passing Chart

Games like these can snowball into equally disastrous outings in the immediate future, or it can simply be a bump on the road of the development. It really depends on the quarterback and the level of defenses he’ll face. Burrow’s mental makeup will be put to the test this week as he has a lot to improve upon, but everyone will now watch if this is the beginning of his David Carr-type downfall.

That’s fair to bring up as a possible outcome; it’s just not one anyone should be ready to declare as an inevitable fate.

Advanced Stats and QB Comparison

*The Total EPA from the top figure will only factor in non-running plays. The Total EPA from the bottom figure will factor in all plays.

**SR from the top figure stands for Success Rate, which is the percentage of plays that achieved a positive EPA outcome.

Tee Higgins is experiencing the same game over and over now for three weeks running, but it’s a better stagnant place to be than where most rookie receivers find themselves.

Higgins finished Sunday with a team-high 62 receiving yards on four receptions, and for the third-week in a row, he was the recipient of Burrow’s deepest throw. Burrow saw Higgins on a post route with the middle of the field open but overthrew Higgins by about 10 yards after Higgins couldn’t separate from cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Higgins’ 22 targets, 13 receptions, and 179 yards since Week 3 are all second on the team to Tyler Boyd. Higgins’ average 2.5 yards of separation is also only second to Boyd, who’s currently averaging 2.8 yards in that category. And while A.J. Green still leads the team in % of air yards with 28.77%, Higgins is closing in fast with 25.52%. He’s averaged just around 40% in that category since Week 3.

Burrow is the one taking the brunt of the deep ball issues, but he’s been targeting Higgins for nearly all of them. It’s tough when two rookies are building chemistry the slow and steady way at the offense’s expense, but that’s where we’re at after an offseason without minicamps and preseason games.

It came as a bit of a surprise when Akeem Davis-Gaither was out on the field with the starting defense on Sunday. The Bengals have been using a more traditional 4-3 defense to combat the Ravens’ offense ever since Lamar Jackson took over, but to see Davis-Gaither play over Jordan Evans and Logan Wilson was an interesting decision.

Davis-Gaither had a stable game, but Wilson is the one that fans noticed for the better.

The positives didn’t end for Wilson after his second interception on the season. Wilson dropped another interception on the Ravens’ second play of the third quarter. On the very next play, Wilson did his job as the spy on Jackson and nearly sacked him on a failed third down conversion.

The entire defense remained disciplined and came very close to turning the ball over multiple times. It’s not easy hamstringing that offense to -0.05 Expected Points Added per play. Wilson and Davis-Gaither were brought in to help accomplish this, and they looked like they belonged as part of an on-going solution.

We don’t know for sure how long Sam Hubbard will be out with his elbow injury, but we do know that Khalid Kareem played a season-high 18 snaps in this game. The coaching staff has to decide who’s taking Hubbard’s reps and will likely choose between Kareem and Carlos Dunlap, whom they recently demoted. It’d be informative to see Kareem handle base duties while Dunlap continues to get subbed in on passing downs, but we shall see what the actual plan is.