When people are going through a rough moment in their lives, there are several stages they usually go through. One of those stages is anger, which is what a lot of NFL and especially Bengals fans feel towards head coach Zac Taylor at this moment.
That criticism and anger hits a little harder when it is coming from a former head coach. In this case, former Jets and Bills head coach (now ESPN analyst) Rex Ryan is coming for Taylor and his plan for Joe Burrow this season, and how he describes was destined to end this way.
Rex Ryan is upset about Joe Burrow's injury and the way the Bengals handled things with their rookie QB.— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) November 23, 2020
"He's the face of the franchise, not you as a coach! ... I think it was reckless in the way that they handled him." pic.twitter.com/CEvbIbWCPw
Ryan and other NFL fans have every reason to be upset with Taylor and his staff about Burrow’s injury. They and Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin have to take a large amount of responsibility for this happening.
However, Ryan is almost completely off base with most of his points. We need to debunk a few things Ryan is getting at, and then we can talk about the real issues that led to this injury.
One of Ryan’s biggest points is “Burrow having more drop back passes than any quarterback in the league...with a horrible offensive line.” While that isn’t an ideal situation to throw a rookie into, it was clearly what was moving the ball.
To explain this, we also have to establish upfront that running the ball a certain amount of times doesn’t inherently keep your quarterback from taking hits. Running the ball effectively saves the quarterback.
What Cincinnati was doing early in the year was running on second-and-long for small gains, which consistently put Burrow in third-and-long situations. Those are the kinds of downs that defenses know you have to pass, and quarterbacks know you have to sit back there a little longer for a play to develop.
Yes, the quantity of drop backs creates more chances to get hit inherently, but there are more of them where he can take a three-step drop and get the ball out rather than trying to take a five or seven step drop to make plays.
Ryan also tries to make the point that Taylor is probably “desperate for wins” since he has only won four games in his two seasons, but that is no reason to put a rookie quarterback into the situation he was in. About the only way to make sure a quarterback (or any player for that matter) doesn’t get hurt on the football field is to not play him.
Could you imagine, especially after what we have seen this season from the rookie, sitting him for Ryan Finely or any other quarterback? Not only were fans excited watching him, but you can even hear it with way his teammates talk about him now that he has earned all their respect. Now keeping him in during games that were far out of reach is a completely different story, but Cincinnati was winning a close game in the third quarter when Burrow got hurt.
In fact, Ryan has plenty of experience getting quarterbacks hurt in meaningless situations. After all, he trotted Mark Sanchez out in the fourth quarter of a preseason game after Geno Smith looked horrendous while the two were in the midst of a quarterback battle. Sanchez ultimately hurt his shoulder, and the rest is history from there. That is what I would’ve called reckless handling of a quarterback.
Again, none of these points are to absolve Taylor, his staff or Tobin completely of blame here. They knew well into the 2019 season that Burrow was coming to town. They also knew the state of their team. This offseason saw plenty of spending money on defensive free agents and draft capital on defensive players. The Bengals drafted one offensive lineman in the sixth round and brought in one free agent offensive lineman.
Yes, the defense really needed revamped, but this staff and front office placed too much confidence in returning offensive lineman to improve, which has been a problem for awhile now. It also hasn’t appeared that there has been that much of competition for spots on this offensive line. Many praised the offensive line unit that kept Burrow upright against the Titans despite missing a number of starters, but all that really showed was just how badly this staff has probably been evaluating this unit.
On Sunday, we saw Hakeem Adeniji start at right tackle, and he showed against the Steelers that he probably should’ve been considered for playing time a lot sooner than this. Do we think any of these changes happen without starters getting injured?
I also don’t want to go blaming a player specifically, but anyone who has watched closely has seen that left guard Michael Jordan has struggled this season pretty frequently. This injury isn’t on him. It is on the people who aren’t trying to let the cream rise to the top via competition.
Bobby Hart, who has actually played serviceably at times this season was on the bench, which made sense given Adeniji earned a shot at right tackle. Why wasn’t Hart worked into a guard position, which he played previously with the Giants? Why haven’t we seen any of Billy Price outside of times when injury necessitates it? Where is the creativity to get the best five guys out there protecting Burrow on every down?
A lot of that goes back to offensive line Jim Turner not doing enough to move pieces around, Taylor for not calling him out or enabling him and Tobin for not bringing in more talent at that position.
These guys are to blame, but blame them for the right reasons.