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Joe Burrow shines despite 49ers’ imposing pass rush

Well, let’s find the bright spot.

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San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Through an up and down 2021 season, one aspect of the season has been consistently good for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Second-year quarterback Joe Burrow came in to the Bengals’ Week 14 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers as the No. 1 rated quarterback in the NFL against the blitz, per PFF.

In a game where hardly anything seemed to go right for 45 minutes or so, Burrow continued to thrive under seemingly constant pressure the entire contest.

The infamous “You can’t zero me!” line seems like it was almost a lifetime ago, but it is still ringing true. One of the biggest flaws of the 2021 Bengals is their inability to protect the franchise quarterback in the “have to pass” situations and opposing defensive coordinators have taken note. With defensive ends able to pin their ears back and know all they need to do is get to the quarterback, many teams have the luxury of getting home without too much creativity.

Week 14 saw Burrow’s passing attempts creep back into the high 30s, as the running game and Joe Mixon were held in check for the second consecutive week. Surprisingly, on Burrow’s 39 drop backs, San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans only pressured Burrow 18 times. It doesn’t sound like an incredibly low number, but given the multi-score lead the Niners had, one might expect it to be higher.

The pressure sure didn’t seem to get to No. 9 when he was able to deliver the ball in the face of the blitz. Per NextGenStats, Burrow completed 10 of his 13 passes and averaged well over 10 yards per attempt when he was under duress.

The 49ers’ defense truly lived and died by their pass-rush. They were able to impose their will against a struggling Bengals’ offensive line for most of the game, and they did it while blitzing only a handful of times. That Burrow was able to overcome their pass rush as much as he did was incredible. Pro Football Focus’ charting produced similar data for Burrow’s performance under pressure as well.

Burrow’s continued success throwing against the blitz is a bright spot in two consecutive tough losses. Here’s to hoping the Bengals’ offense can keep the opposition guessing a bit more in the next four games, each of which carrying major playoff implications.