The Bengals’ offense continues to disappoint. And by “continues,” I don’t mean for the second week in a row. I mean for the second year in a row.
Cincinnati is home to a top-five quarterback (Joe Burrow), a top-five wide receiver (Ja’Marr Chase), a top-ten receiver (Tee Higgins), a top-twenty-five receiver (Tyler Boyd), and a top-ten running back (Joe Mixon).
But things have not come easy for the offense. The 2021-22 regular season was saved by timely homeruns, mostly Burrow to Chase. The 2022 postseason offered fewer of those, and the team had to rely on its defense to eek out victories.
And this year, the offense is in such bad shape that it’s costing the team wins. And in a sport as complicated as football, the reason why is... complicated. So let’s take a look at just the first five issues that come to mind.
Issue #1: The offensive line is out of sync
Finally, the front office decided to add some talent to the line. Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins have ability.
But so far, as Geoff Schwartz pointed out, there is not a lot of communication and coordination in pass protection. In one play that serves as a microcosm of the Bengals’ issues at large, he shows how Cordell Volson and Joe Mixon remain confused as to who to block while Collins couldn’t handle Micah Parsons one on one due to poor hand technique.
ICYMI I broke down one Bengals offensive play from Sunday that sums up their offensive woes right now. up!— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) September 20, 2022
Article with full recap of their offense coming soon!
Criticism of o-line coach Frank Pollack is beginning to get louder. But remember, replacing him with Jim Turner was once deemed the worst decision of the Zac Taylor era. That was because of the great o-line he built in Dallas and the career year that Mixon had in Pollack’s first season in Cincinnati. More importantly, Pollack is not about to be the only one blamed for four new starters not having chemistry with each other. At least not for now.
In terms of individual blame, we could talk about Jonah Williams’ poor start, but he was still developing anyway. Collins, meanwhile, was expected to come in and be Burrow’s “bodyguard.” He has very much not been that so far.
While it is possible that Collins has declined on account of back and foot injuries, he simply doesn’t seem to be there mentally either. His footwork and hand placement are off. He spent a lot of time last Sunday whiffing and chasing after Parsons instead of facing him. And, as our John Sheeran pointed out, Collins even has his butt pointed in the wrong direction a lot of the time (toward the defense, not toward the quarterback).
Another brutal game for La'El Collins. Inconsistent out of his stance. Inconsistent in his set. Constantly off balance at the point of contact. Constantly on the floor. Communication issues. He allowed five pressures allowed, and it could have been double that pic.twitter.com/xeSAnxjQjU— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) September 19, 2022
Issue #2: Burrow refuses to be a small potatoes player
Further complicating the o-line issues is Burrow’s tendency to want to go for the big play. But honestly, I consider this a virtue overall. The man isn’t going to become a checkdown quarterback. It’s not how he’s built. But that means he’s going to get hit a lot and sacked a lot as he continues to look for plays down the field.
Andrew Luck was sacked 76 times in his first 33 games (incl. playoffs)— Sean (@wolfkaosaun) September 19, 2022
David Carr was sacked 101 times in his first 32 games
Joe Burrow has been sacked 115 times in his first 32 games (incl. playoffs)@JoeGoodberry @BlakeJewellNFL @John__Sheeran @Chris_Roling
The analytics agree that, while the line has been bad, Burrow’s play style has made him even more vulnerable to getting hit.
Bengals OL bad at protecting Burrow: Yes— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) September 19, 2022
Burrow very bad at protecting himself: Yes pic.twitter.com/ipqZMplVwe
Per PFF, Burrow has been under pressure on 30.9% of his drop backs this year.— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) September 20, 2022
That ranks 17th of 33 QBs.
Joe Burrow has been sacked on 38.2% of those pressures.
That's worst in the league. https://t.co/l7ewWFsoTA
Issue #3: The run game has stalled
Blame Zac Taylor. Blame Brian Callahan. Blame Pollack. Or blame the line. Really, you can blame all of them.
But if Mixon can’t be more efficient running the ball and the o-line remains inconsistent, the Bengals won’t be able to get it going.
According to ESPN’s Next Gen stats, the sixth-year running back has the lowest rushing yards against expectation of any running back when facing six or fewer defenders near the line of scrimmage, which are considered favorable running situations.
For some reason, he just isn’t forcing many missed tackles anymore.
This is going to go over very poorly for some fans, but you need to hear it.— Andrew Russell (@Andrew_Russell7) September 19, 2022
Joe Mixon leads the league in attempts and ranks 46th out of 49 RBs in missed tackles forced per carry (0.11).
If he isn't forcing missed tackles, Chris Evans needs to see the field.
Issue #4: They can’t get chunk yards against Tampa 2
Surprise, surprise. Defenses decided they weren’t going to get torched by Burrow and Chase again this year. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have played a ton of Tampa 2 defense, with two high safeties and a MIKE linebacker in the middle.
The Bengals have countered with a variety of short and intermediate routes, as the great Mike Santagata highlighted in his amazing article. But this offense was never methodical and patient. And, so far, Burrow hasn’t had the kind of protection or run game to allow for that change. So points are going to be hard to come by unless something changes.
Watch our analysis of the offense’s struggles below:
Issue #5: The play designs and playcalling are predictable
Last week, I asked you if you thought Taylor needs to hand over playcalling duties. And you overwhelmingly said he did. Then on Sunday, Burrow seemed to be saying that the offense is caught off guard on game days, meaning, the offensive gameplan is not unpredictable enough.
Joe Burrow on sluggish early offense: "We’d like to start faster. The first half is not up to our standard. We’d like to start faster but defenses we are getting earlier are always different than ones on film. That probably plays a part in it."— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) September 19, 2022
And Chase said the following after the loss to the Cowboys:
“People just know how to adjust to us now... I feel like we need to learn how to make more adjustments in the game. Everybody knows what we’re going to do now.”
A few days later, Taylor—in his coachspeak way—recognized that he needs to step it up and put some new wrinkles into the offense.
Interesting comments from Zac Taylor on being willing to tweak aspects about his processes as a playcaller: "You have to be ready to evolve if needed."— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) September 21, 2022
But, according to Malik Wright, one thing we won’t see any time soon is Taylor surrendering his role as playcaller.
Update on the possibility of Zac Taylor handing over play calling duties— Malik Wright (@Wrightreportt) September 21, 2022
Football is a game of X’s & O’s but sometimes you have to trust Jimmy’s and Joe’s
Catch us Mon/Wed on The Sitdown w/ Malik Wright presented by @Firststarlog pic.twitter.com/maDeTzP3L9
The good news
We saw this last year. Burrow, coming off a devastating knee injury and working with a porous offensive line, took a little bit of time to settle down. The offense as a whole wasn’t very efficient either.
This season, with a scary appendix surgery, losing weight, and getting no preseason action, Burrow had a lot of catching up to do. Combine that with the four new faces on the line that have to get in sync, and it should be no surprise that the offense is massively inconsistent.
The difference between last year and this year? A few splashy plays.
Because somebody will ask for the math...— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) September 21, 2022
He was pressured 34.3% of his dropbacks to start 2021.
It's 30.9% this year.
He also took sacks on 43.5% of those pressures in 2021.
It's 38.2% this year.
So once the coaching staff (and Burrow) come up with better ways to beat Tampa 2 coverage, we should see the offense get back to where it was last year.
You can listen to our analysis on iTunes or using the player below: