Joe Burrow went from being a below average deep passer his first year to an outstanding one his second year largely because of the addition of Ja’Marr Chase. Now defenses are taking that dynamic away, and we’re seeing Burrow struggle to throw downfield.
Despite facing a defense that had been giving up a ton of yards in the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals simply could not find success in the deep passing game. So what did we learn from a disappointing showing on offense on Sunday night?
Burrow and Chase can’t do it alone
With Tee Higgins missing most of the game with an ankle sprain, the passing game stalled. Yes, everyone wants Tyler Boyd more involved. But Chase simply can’t get going with the amount of attention he’s getting from defenses.
This is an example of the coverage that Ja'Marr Chase talked about. He called it "6 strong" which essentially means they're "clouding" his side by playing cover 2 to it with a CB underneath and a safety overtop. The other side of the field is quarters. pic.twitter.com/LLZwdvjfAO— Mike (@bengals_sans) October 11, 2022
So even though he had 12 targets, he ended up with just 50 yards, and Burrow ended up with just 217 passing yards on 35 attempts.
Bengals QB Joe Burrow: "There's just nothing down the field if teams are going to play us like they did today." Bengals had just one pass attempt of 20+ air yards, per NFL Next Gen.— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) October 10, 2022
So Burrow played it safe. Safer than he ever has before.
Joe Burrow averaged the fewest air yards per attempt in a game in his career (4.0), and was blitzed at the lowest rate in a game in his career (2.7%).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 10, 2022
Burrow did not complete his only deep attempt of the game.#CINvsBAL | #RuleTheJungle pic.twitter.com/ETsTSJNCBS
In fact, it was Hayden Hurst and Mike Thomas making the biggest plays of the night. Of course, that should change this week when the former LSU teammates will probably be looking to put on a show in their return to Louisiana to play the New Orleans Saints.
Vonn Bell is emerging as a big-time playmaker
We always knew the strong safety could hit (just ask JuJu Smith-Schuster), but Bell now has three interceptions in his last two games. Most importantly, these are momentum-shifting plays.
Right after Bell picked off Lamar Jackson, the offense started humming, especially Joe Mixon and the running game. The veteran ball carrier had big runs of nine and twelve yards, Thomas had his 33-yard reception, and Hurst had his inspired touchdown dive.
Vonn Bell with his THIRD pick in the past two games!— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) October 10, 2022
The man lives for primetime pic.twitter.com/nkzdOW52we
Hayden Hurst is the perfect tight end for this team
Speaking of Hurst, in the tight end’s return to the city that drafted him, he had his best game in stripes yet, catching six of seven targets for 53 yards and one riveting score.
HAYDEN HURST REVENGE GAME pic.twitter.com/fqeyIfXInp— PFF CIN Bengals (@PFF_Bengals) October 10, 2022
As our good friend Mike Santagata points out, the safety decides not to stay with Hurst, and the athletic pass catcher makes him pay. This can be huge going forward as the Bengals look to attack the middle of the field more often to draw attention away from their two dynamic threats on the outside.
Joe Burrow to Hayden Hurst TD on a Mills variation (I think)— Mike (@bengals_sans) October 11, 2022
The safety doesn't match Hurst on the dig route and Burrow hits him with good anticipation. Hurst with the flying eagle to score! pic.twitter.com/M6WxpceNSr
And Hurst, not known for his blocking, is even helping out in the running game.
The Bengals run Y insert iso with Hurst coming through the B gap from the opposite side. Great burst from Mixon to turn this into a 12 yard gain. pic.twitter.com/uLZZJ4Bo6E— Mike (@bengals_sans) October 11, 2022
Yes, he’s not Travis Kelce, but Hurst is always ready to make a big play when his number is called, and that’s exactly what a team with three excellent receivers needs. Plus, Hurst has a great attitude and desire that is valuable for a team struggling to come back from a last minute Super Bowl loss.
"There is no panic in here. We're going to get this thing figured out and we're going to start putting up points." -@haydenrhurst— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) October 10, 2022
Bengals | @GEICO pic.twitter.com/joYtB2mQ11
The offensive line is no longer the biggest issue
Yeah! Right? Well, the biggest issue now actually seems to be that the offense is just out of sync, and so far that’s costing them games. But let’s be positive for a second.
Burrow had a clean pocket on the Hurst touchdown above. He also had a nice pocket on the big throw to Thomas.
Major gains for @_MikeTeee! This escape was clean.— NFL (@NFL) October 10, 2022
: #CINvsBAL on NBC
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/Izvnl1kmB4 pic.twitter.com/ZBmcqzlpOv
And guys like Alex Cappa are starting to set a tone.
Ted Karras punishes the jumper! pic.twitter.com/L3GU6LGGvQ— Mike (@bengals_sans) October 11, 2022
But we saw the pass protection trending in the right direction against the Miami Dolphins as well. The most recent development is that the run blocking is getting there as well.
Alex Cappa with the thunderous slam to open up this hole pic.twitter.com/XcctydK0Pn— Mike (@bengals_sans) October 11, 2022
The Bengals run trap with Collins trapping the 1T and it's beautiful pic.twitter.com/qzsaOFQtCZ— Mike (@bengals_sans) October 11, 2022
In other good news, Jonah Williams had his best game of the year.
Despite battling an early knee injury, Jonah Williams was pretty impressive against the Ravens and had his best game of the 2022 season so far.— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) October 10, 2022
81.4 PFF Pass Blocking
80.5 in True Pass Sets
66.2 PFF Run Blocking
0 sacks, 0 QB Hits, 0 Pressures#Bengals pic.twitter.com/yqsjfRcNSO
The playcalling is the problem, and creativity isn’t the answer
Creativity for the sake of creativity is not what’s going to score points. The Philly special and the shovel pass attempt from two yards out late in the third quarter were “creative” but they didn’t make sense in that context. Zac Taylor is clearly feeling the heat now, and he’s making it clear that the playcalling is a collective effort, i.e., nothing will change if he hands over duties to Brian Callahan.
Zac Taylor's full answer on if there's been any coaching staff discussions about him giving up play-calling. #Bengals pic.twitter.com/tGPQyY8Spp— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) October 10, 2022
So where do we go from here? Well, there are no quick fixes. We have to hope that Taylor is smart enough to continue to learn from his mistakes and get the recipe right. After all, he does have perhaps the most talented roster in franchise history to work with.
We talked about the issues with the playcalling, Burrow’s hesitation to throw deep, and more in our recent show.
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