Less than three minutes remained on the game clock for Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. With the intent of getting one more score to put the Jacksonville Jaguars away, Burrow and the offense know that if the play doesn’t result in points, making sure that the clock continues to run is just as paramount.
Burrow rolled to his right off of a naked bootleg. His options included exactly zero open receivers in front of him. Under normal circumstances, Burrow would either run upfield for as many yards as possible, try to get out of bounds after getting as many yards as possible, or force a tight window throw.
But the best option in this scenario was none of those. Burrow slid down on his own at the line of scrimmage. The game clock continued to tick away for the Jaguars, but they accomplished something on that play for the first time all game: they sacked Burrow, in the most depressing and meaningless way possible.
That the only time Burrow was sacked was when he gave himself up to ensure time continue to run is a damning indictment on the Jaguars’ pass rush. They pressured Burrow on 13 of his dropbacks for the game and blitzed him on nine. Burrow got the ball out each and every time and was damn near flawless doing so, earning offensive grades of 75.4 when pressured and 93.7 when blitzed from Pro Football Focus.
This all helps support the conclusion that the offensive line finally got its act together, and that’s mostly true. Jonah Williams and Trey Hopkins were once again virtually perfect in pass protection, but outside of those two, no offensive lineman received a pass-blocking grade above 60 from PFF. It wasn’t exactly pretty watching Michael Jordan, Bobby Hart, and new starter Alex Redmond go to work protecting Burrow, but they got the job done. And frankly, this was the week to do so.
The Jaguars probably long for the days when Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue where rushing off the edges, because the unit they have now is far less imposing. Sure, Josh Allen is impressive and K’lavon Chaisson has promise, but there’s not enough there to disrupt any offensive line that doesn’t shoot itself in the foot. And that’s where the difference was in this game.
Cincinnati’s offensive line had enough trouble winning one-on-one matchups during the first three weeks. When opposing defenses threw stunts and twists at them, they turned a liability into a disaster squad. This was the way that Jacksonville could’ve hurt them up front, scheming pressures to compensate for their lack of ability, but the much-maligned offensive line answered the bell nearly every time it was rang.
Here are five examples of the Bengals’ offensive line succeeding in this regard:
So much unjustified hope was placed on the offensive line this offseason to improve to this level for all 16 games. Was Redmond the one missing piece to the puzzle? The right guard known for drawing more than his fair share of flags managed to keep his penalties down to one in his first game in nearly a year. If he wasn’t following terrible outings from two other players at that spot, we wouldn’t think too highly of his performance considering how weak the competition he faced, but that’s enough context to connote negatively. Redmond played pretty good considering the circumstances.
On the note of expectations, they were also lofty for D.J. Reader during the Spring and Summer as well.
No one obviously knew that the start of Reader’s time in Cincinnati would be without Geno Atkins, but the Bengals knew what they paid for when Reader inked the biggest free agent contract in team history. Reader’s development as a pass-rusher took a notable jump during the 2019 season when he set career-highs in pressure rate and quarterback hits. We hadn’t seen Reader show that side of his game up until Sunday when he was Bengals’ best pass-rusher. It’s why he was clearly the defense’s second-best player on the field only behind Jessie Bates III.
The tape explains it very clearly:
As Atkins missed what’s hopefully his last game with a shoulder injury, the Bengals finally saw the Reader they invested so heavily in. When Reader plays like this, they can be comfortable in utilizing the rotation they had in mind to keep Atkins fresh throughout the season. Such a plan is wise in theory, but it’s not as exciting as seeing Reader and Atkins push the pocket on the field together.
It’s only a matter of time before it becomes a reality.