Thursday’s loss to the Cleveland Browns had Cincinnati Bengals fans saying “here we go again.”
But the reality is that we haven’t been in this situation for decades.
Joe Burrow is not just a good quarterback. He is precisely the type of quarterback who can make up for his team’s flaws.
We’re not talking about Andy Dalton anymore. The Bengals don’t need to surround their quarterback with Pro Bowlers like that 2015 roster to have a chance. They always have a chance now.
Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Deshaun Watson have all won with pretty bad offensive lines. Peyton Manning simply outscored opponents most of the time because he wasn’t on a lot of teams with great defenses.
Burrow finds himself in a similar situation and, while Cincinnati still lost, it was different from previous primetime games, an indication that - eventually - franchise QB play will result in big-time wins.
On a terrible night for the team, Burrow completed the most passes by a rookie ever (37) for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns. And some of his throws were absolutely top-notch, like his 23-yard strike to C.J. Uzomah, which split two Browns defenders.
Burrow gets his first passing TD to Uzomah! pic.twitter.com/kB7PisxZp3— Dadio Makdook (@dadiodefacto) September 18, 2020
There was also a stellar throw to Tee Higgins on the run.
Lots of folks have commented about the quality of this Joe Burrow throw. End zone angle shows why. Great job by Burrow and Higgins on extending the play and getting a big gain. pic.twitter.com/CoUVJ6SOIE— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) September 19, 2020
Before you say that this roster is far more of a mess than what Watson, Wilson, Luck, or Manning ever had to deal with, some context is needed.
The offensive line is shaky, yes. But remember, Xavier Su’a-Filo was out, and while he’s not exactly Quenton Nelson, he is the starting right guard. Bobby Hart is physically gifted, but he’s not a right guard. The tackles, Bobby Hart and Jonah Williams, were actually not that bad, especially Williams who had a tremendous play taking on two pass rushers to save his quarterback from disaster. Don’t expect the o-line to be great or even average. But they should be better than what we saw on Thursday, and even then, Burrow was only sacked three times on 61 pass attempts, indicating that he will find ways to work behind what he’s got.
Life saver from Jonah... pic.twitter.com/6XtSi6SM1e— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) September 18, 2020
The defense won’t win games on its own, but it should also be improved very soon. Against Cleveland, Geno Atkins (and his backup, Mike Daniels) were missing. They could be back against the Philadelphia Eagles. And there is reason to think other positions will get stronger over time. There are three rookie linebackers who will eventually make plays as well as a big free agent addition bound to return from injury at some point, Trae Waynes.
In short, it’s not a perfect roster and it won’t be any time soon. But that’s not necessary anymore. Give Burrow just a little time, and he will torch you. He will learn to expose defenses even more over time and even avoid some of the disasters from Thursday that resulted from miscommunication or unfamiliarity with his teammates, like the timeout attempt that resulted in a bad snap. Soon, maybe even this year, we will see Burrow lead the Bengals to wins even when the team has an overall bad day.
To hear reactions to and analysis of the Bengals’ Thursday night game against the Browns, listen to this podcast featuring Saturday Night Live alum Luke Null. You can listen on iTunes or listen below. Please subscribe and leave a 5-star rating if you like what you hear.