In his third-career home game, Joe Burrow, one again, drove the Bengals down the field late in the fourth quarter and put together a successful game-winning drive. This time, instead of a penalty negating the go-ahead touchdown, his pass targeting the right side of the North end zone counted and the Bengals had the lead. It’d be nice if that’s where the story ended.
Let’s rewind and take a look at how he got there.
The Burrow Breakdown, Vol. 7
The last time Burrow played an AFC North opponent, it was the worst game of his young career. On the road against the Baltimore Ravens, Burrow started that game with two turnovers and no scores the first four possessions he had.
If it wasn’t for a timely Darius Phillips interception, this past Sunday may’ve been a near identical start for No. 9.
Burrow got his two turnovers out of the way before 12 minutes had passed on the game clock. A costly red zone interception and his fourth strip-sack on the season had the chance to put Cincinnati down a hole early, yet when he got the ball back after giving it away for the second time, the Bengals were still ahead 7-3.
From then on, it was the Burrow show. And considering the opposing quarterback was about to light Burrow’s defense on fire, it came not a moment too soon.
27 of Burrow’s remaining 41 plays, starting with the last play of the first quarter, were successful from an expected points added perspective. The 23-year old was back to dishing out quick and wise throws from empty sets, which is how he crossed the 300-yard mark for the first time against the Browns back in Week 2. But Burrow only completed one deep pass that whole game. He completed three this time around.
Two of those three made our top Burrow plays of the week.
There hasn’t been one time where Burrow hasn’t taken a shot down the field when he has a free play. That back-shoulder throw to A.J. Green was the second time the two connected on that route, but the folks at Next Gen Stats say that throw had a 15.3% chance at being completed. It’s now the sixth-most improbable reception of the season so far, but a perfect throw made it all the more possible for Green to haul it in.
If you can believe it, the touchdown to Tyler Boyd had a slightly larger chance of being completed (20.3%). As Boyd sat down in the zone between the field-side safety and the hook-curl defender, Burrow threw a strike right in time as Boyd was hit when the ball reached his hands. A harder throw may’ve bounced off Boyd’s occupied hands; a softer lob would’ve arrived too late. It was pure precision at its finest.
A quiet third quarter was followed by an efficient fourth quarter for Burrow. His completion to Drew Sample on second-and-13 became a first down due to Sample’s work after the catch, but you have to love Burrow scanning the double in-cuts to his left before quickly reseting to his right and finding a wide open Sample. His quick processing gave Sample enough time to take advantage of the space around him and gain as many yards as possible.
On his next drive, after extending what became a broken play and finding Mike Thomas over the middle, Burrow was faced with a third-and-11 thanks to not one, but two false starts from his offensive line. Burrow knows he’s got the Browns in a two-man under against an empty set, which means the middle of the field is wide open, so he takes off right at that point of weakness and gets the first down on his own.
That play would set up the would-be winning touchdown to Giovani Bernard, but we all know why that didn’t end up winning the game. Burrow’s third touchdown through the air was a nice bit of redemption since it happened in front of the same end zone as his interception. If Burrow doesn’t make that costly mistake, maybe the defense’s collapse wouldn’t have cost them the game.
But hey, at least Burrow made up for his mistakes. Here where the ones that stood out.
All Burrow had to do was wait another second to throw Boyd open in the back corner of the end zone. The defenders in between the throw are flat-footed and Boyd has a step on the trailing defender. It’s an easy touchdown if Burrow is just a little more patient.
Burrow’s sack fumble was also costly, but the sack he took later in the game from Garrett was much more avoidable. When he quickly rolls out of the pocket, knowing Garrett was practically unblocked, he’s got to make a quicker decision out in the open like that. Either throw it away or tuck it and run. Getting blindsided like that is asking for another fumble.
The dropped interception looked like a huge miscommunication, but a turnover-worthy play regardless. Terrence Mitchell changes the game if he just catches it.
Plays like that are why Burrow received Pro Football Focus’ 18th-best quarterback grade despite having the sixth-highest total QBR from Week 7. The day turned out to be an overwhelming great one for him, but the mistakes didn’t just vanish after he threw for over 400 yards and scored four touchdowns.
And it’s not like Burrow cares about the numbers. He’s the first starting quarterback in franchise history to lose his first two games against the Browns since Jeff Blake back in 1995. He still has two more chances to beat Cleveland before he ties Ken Anderson’s 0-4 career start against them.
Even though it was far from perfect, it was still a performance worthy of a victory. That theme is becoming all-too common so far this year.
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.
A.J. Green’s re-emergence over the last two weeks has not stopped Tee Higgins from leading the offense in receiving yards in the same timeframe. Higgins’ 196 yards and 7.0 yards after catch/reception are sixth and third, respectively, amongst 40 qualifying receivers from around the league in the past two weeks.
Early in this week’s contest, Higgins and Burrow connected on a back-shoulder throw that looked directly out of LSU’s 2019 playbook. But that wasn’t the most impressive play Higgins made on Sunday.
Per Next Gen Stats, Higgins had a 3.4% chance at scoring his third touchdown of the season and his first since Week 3. As the second in-cut on the outside, Higgins gets the ball from Burrow with two linebackers right in front of him. Not only did he split both of them, he pulled a spin move out of his bag and turned a first down into a touchdown.
Higgins got one more pass thrown his way during the offense’s final drive of the game and took a shot to the midsection after moving the chains for the fifth time of the game. It might’ve just been him getting the wind knocked out of him since he would return to the field just five plays later.
Khalid Kareem and Logan Wilson were PFF’s second and third-highest graded defensive players for the Bengals. That’s more of an indictment on how bad the defense was as a whole, but it’s something to note nonetheless. Kareem played 18 snaps behind starter Amani Bledsoe at left defensive end and held his own in run defense.
Wilson had a much better game compared to how he played last time vs. Cleveland. It was shoddy run defense that killed him back in Week 2, and since the Browns didn’t run the ball as much, he only had eight snaps against the run. This was by far his best one.
Wilson had a rather uneventful 21 other snaps on defense. Akeem Davis-Gaither only played 14 snaps and wasn’t involved in very many plays as well. Markus Bailey was active for the first time in a few weeks but only saw the field on special teams.
There isn’t much to take away from Hakeem Adeniji’s three snaps at left tackle to end the game. What is to be noted is that he took Fred Johnson’s place at that spot while Johnson moved to right tackle when Bobby Hart went out of the game with a knee injury. If Jonah Williams does indeed miss next Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans, Adeniji appears to be the next man up at left tackle with Johnson on the other side. This tells us about how their offensive line depth chart truly looks like, as Johnson is the swing tackle and Adeniji goes to left tackle if both starters are out.
It’s not the scenario we wanted, but we should get a full look at Adeniji in just a week’s time.