The Cincinnati Bengals finally addressed their offensive line in a meaningful way this offseason.
By adding Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins in free agency and drafting Cordell Volson, they replaced four of their five starters from a year ago. The only carryover was their best player in 2021, Jonah Williams.
And yet, the struggle continues. There is however one big difference this season. Last year, Burrow handled the pressure well, often rolling out and keeping the play alive, while looking downfield for a big play.
This season, he seems to want to tuck the ball and run up the middle, and he isn’t always able to avoid the rush
This play is a perfect example.
The Cowboys show double-A-gap pressure, so running back Samaje Perine plays tight to the line of scrimmage. On the snap, both presumed A-gap rushers drop into coverage. Dallas twists the remaining four pass-rushers, with inside guys pressing outside and the outside guys looping in.
The offensive line does a remarkable job of picking up this stunt. Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler only come free because Burrow goes outside the pocket. There is a moment where it looks like Fowler may get some penetration, but Cappa pushes him down the line of scrimmage.
Micah Parsons gets some push on Karras, but Volson comes in to help him out. Burrow could have just slid to the left and been fine, but he steps up and gets closer to the rush. That put him in an even worse spot when he tried to roll out.
The protection was sound. If he stayed in the pocket and didn’t step up into the rush, he would have had more time.
Now let’s look at what’s going on in the secondary.
Three seconds into this clip, Burrow reaches the top of his drop. Despite a clean pocket, he gets happy feet. He tries to roll out, but having already stepped into the pocket, he runs right in to Armstrong and Fowler.
If you look downfield as he starts to leave the pocket, you’ll notice Tee Higgins wide open approaching the star at the 50-yard line. That’s the best throw, but he could have gone to Chase on the corner at the top of the screen or thrown to either flat.
The protection did a great job on this play and there were multiple receivers open, but Burrow never saw them because his pocket movement took him into the rush.
The most important thing about rushing a guy like Burrow or Patrick Mahomes, for that matter, is to contain them. Both are great at getting outside the pocket and keeping their eyes down field. The nature of this stunt makes that difficult for the defense to keep contain, since the outside rushers lined up between the tackles.
As discussed above, Burrow should have stayed in the pocket, but if he was going to run, he should have stayed deep and run to the outside, keeping his eyes down field. That is one of the things that makes him special. Although we have seen it a little this season, he has taken off on up the middle much more often. This may allow him to pick up some yards, or ever a first down, but it lacks the explosive play potential of scrambling outside the pocket.
Early in the 2021 season, the offense had trouble getting going, but Burrow and Chase were often able to connect for a big play, and get them on the board. That has not been the case this year. The offense is struggling to find their groove this season, and without Burrow playing at a transcendent level, the Bengals are off to an 0-2 start. Burrow needs to get back to his old self, to get this team rolling once again.