Going back to the start of the 2019 season, there have been two teams to allow eight sacks in two different games. The New York Jets are one of the teams.
The Cincinnati Bengals are other team, if you couldn’t guess.
The Bengals have also allowed seven sacks in three different games since 2019 as well. No other team has had more than two.
This past Sunday, we saw game number three in that category.
Sacks have been the dominant statistic in measuring the quality of offensive line play for decades. We don’t need to know that the Bengals have allowed the second-most sacks in the NFL (70) over the last 21 weeks of football to realize their offensive line is not equipped to perform competently.
But when the number reaches the tippy top of the chart—like in this case, seven— for a single game’s work, it’s never simple enough to pin it all on the five blockers up front. Just look at what happened two weeks ago.
Joe Burrow walked off the field at Lincoln Financial Field after having been sacked eight times by the Philadelphia Eagles, but head coach Zac Taylor stated that the offensive line was responsible for only four of them. While it’d be nice for Taylor to hold the line accountable for once, he wasn’t particularly wrong in this case.
Burrow and the line each were each liable for the damage Philly created. Sometimes it’s not so easy to discern where the onus truly lies, but when you look closely enough, it’s almost always right in front of you.
Despite the toll Burrow and the line took that week, I chose to focus my attention elsewhere. Now that it happened again in a much more crushing fashion, we have to address it.
In four of his first five games, Burrow has taken his fair share of licks from opposing pass rushers. This past week against the Baltimore Ravens was the continuation of that trend, and we even saw it take a turn for the worst. Burrow looked flustered and rattled as the game persisted and point differential progressed. For the first time in his young career, he was making matters worse instead of overcoming afflictions.
Is it fair to assume this wouldn’t eventually happen this year? Absolutely not. Is it only right that we evaluate it as we clearly see it? Absolutely yes.
These are the games that make the Bengals no better than what they were last year. The offensive line hasn’t really changed, but the quarterback has. We can talk every week about how bad the former is like taking a Louisville Slugger and hammering a deceased Standardbred with it. I much rather prefer taking a look at how both parts of the problem are liable and how they can be improved.
There were seven plays from the trillion to chose from of Burrow under pressure. Sometimes the offensive line was at fault, sometimes it was Burrow’s own wrongdoing. And to add another layer of discovery, we’ll look at the All-22 to see what Burrow’s receivers were doing down the field.
Let’s inject some nuance into the discourse.
There are those so heavily invested in this team that one side HAS to possess more liability for the overall damages, and it’s easier to point the finger at the offensive line knowing that it will undergo a massive overhaul several months from now. There’s not enough energy left in this writer to argue that stance.
The line was completely befuddled by the Ravens’ constant deception and utilization of convoluted zone blitzes. On the other hand, they can only do so much when the quarterback has control of adjusting protections before the ball is snapped and they’re left blocking air while free rushers sprint past them. They were already screwed on account of them being physically overwhelmed, and that feeds into the evaluation problem the organization has at this position group. We just happened to see these clear and obvious problems negatively impact the player they’re paid to protect.
It’s a bit depressing, but how does a team of professionals rewatch this game and muster up any confidence in the hopes of improving? The Bengals’ offense looked like a high school team facing the 1985 Chicago Bears; an utter mismatch of this magnitude usually involves the franchises even the Bengals mock and feel righteous about it. Instead, they got a whiff of 2019 all over again.
While this is a blueprint of sorts for defenses handcuffing any offense Burrow can produce, it’s not so easily replicable. The Ravens may not have a single dominant pass rusher, but the unit works in damn-near perfect cohesion and synchronization, mainly because of the play-caller pulling the strings.
Thankfully, there is only one “Wink” Martindale. But the tape is out there for the Bengals to do their best to learn from it, and for the rest of the league to do their best to weaponize it for their own benefit.
Such a catastrophe can’t possibly leave one party bearing all the blame, even if the chicken clearly came before the egg.