The season-ending knee injury Joe Burrow suffered is what we’ll all remember about his rookie season. His recovery from reconstructive knee surgery is what we’ve exclusively talked about in regards to his 2021 outlook, but Burrow needs to do more than just get healthy for next season.
Burrow and the Bengals’ offense need to be more productive on downfield plays and deep ball opportunities. It held the team back nearly as much as the lackluster offensive line did, and while those two go hand in hand in some cases, a lot of the issues were on Burrow and his receivers.
In regards to Burrow, specifically, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com that the deep ball should be correctable before the season starts.
“Ultimately, I don’t think it concerns me,” Callahan said. “Obviously if we started the season off and we’re still missing at the same rate, that would be concerning. But I think we’ll be able to rectify those issues. We’ll watch them all through the offseason, see what we could have done better, see what we could have done differently at both the skill and quarterback position. I think it will be a thing we can get corrected pretty quickly. Joe has thrown to these guys for a year and I think he has a good understanding of how they play football.”
Improving the personnel around Burrow would definitely help him become more efficient on deep attempts. The Bengals seem determined to invest in their o-line this offseason and a new receiver or two will be added to compensate for the likely departures of A.J. Green and John Ross III.
Burrow himself will be responsible for showing improvement as well, and that may be a bit difficult while he’s rehabbing back to full strength. Completing deep passes is not just about raw arm strength, which is why Burrow was so effective in this area in 2019 with LSU. A lot of it involves mechanics and timing, as well as building chemistry with receivers via reps. Burrow and the Bengals won’t have a traditional offseason filled with OTAs and minicamp, and even if those were coming back this year, Burrow would still be working just to get back onto the field.
Callahan and the coaching staff will be tasked with preparing Burrow’s offense in an offseason where Burrow may not be taking a live rep until September. Of course Burrow will still be in the meetings and have major input on the structure of everything, but you don’t get better throwing 20+ yards down the field against live defenses without actually doing it.
It’ll be a success if Burrow is available to play in Week 1 of the regular season. Anything beyond that should be considered a plus. Hopefully, Callahan is right to place his confidence in this area.