Last week we discussed what it would take for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to make history by becoming the first No. 1 overall quarterback to start their career 1-0 for the first time since David Carr did it back in 2002 with the Houston Texans. As we all know now, that didn't happen, as the Bengals fell in a heartbreaking 16-13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
As crazy as it is to type, this was the first loss Burrow had been a part of since November of 2018, when it took seven overtimes to settle the score between LSU and Texas A&M with a final of 74-72.
As we move forward, though it won’t be history for Burrow this week, Burrow and the Bengals are facing off against a vulnerable and beatable Cleveland Browns team—a squad that got absolutely smacked by the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1.
So what must happen for Burrow and company to come away with the victory, and get the former Heisman Trophy winner back on a winning streak, a place where we know he thrives with confidence at his back?
The Offensive Line
The Bengals’ offensive tackles were a big storyline going into the season, not for how good they were, but rather, wondering how bad they might be. One week into the season and to say that the situation is questionable might be putting it lightly.
Jonah Williams is essentially in his rookie season after missing all of last year with an injury. On the other side of him is Bobby Hart. Neither looked like they could hold their own against the likes of Chargers edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Now, on one hand, it’s Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who are very good. But on the other hand, this league doesn’t give you many breaks, and this Thursday they’ll have to stay in front of Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon.
Like any rookie world, Burrow needs time to work. Against the Chargers, we saw flashes of confidence and good quarterback play from the rookie in his first game when he wasn’t running for his life.
Burrow Must Spread It Around, Stay Mobile
Burrow gained 46 yards on eight rushes, including a 23-yard run up the middle for a touchdown early in the Week 1 game. Burrow showing off some of that speed shouldn’t come at too much of a surprise, as he was one of the best quarterbacks under pressure in college last season due to how well he could move and how comfortable he was doing so.
Burrow has to remember that his legs are a weapon. He’s no Lamar Jackson in the open field, but Cleveland gave up the third-most rushing yards and the third-most rushing yards-per-attempt in 2019. The Browns were able to hold most of the Ravens’ rushers to below their yards-per-carry average last week, which is encouraging for them, but Burrow being a threat to pick up extra yards as a rusher will play a factor in how he can manipulate the defense throughout the game.
It’s also worth noting that for as much as people said “this roster was picking at the top of the draft for a reason,” the Bengals receiver room is talented and deep.
A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Auden Tate, and Tee Higgins are all on this team. The Bengals have the personnel to really spread defenses out with a lot of different looks and a lot of capable receivers on the field at the same time. That is something Burrow is very used to coming from LSU. Get the numbers and watch him work. There won’t be many teams in the NFL who have coverage units deep enough to handle all those receivers when they’re producing—Cleveland isn’t one of them.
Two-Minute Drill for Two Full Halves
Burrow had an up-and-down game against the Chargers, which is something we figured would be the case. But in the final two minutes, with the game really on the line and his back against the wall, he was brilliant. In his final drive, Burrow went 8-for-10 with 70 yards and led his team to a spot where they should have tied things up with overtime to follow. The kicking game didn’t go as planned, but the important part is Burrow got them there.
Burrow said that he felt he “played terrible” through three and a half quarters. Football games are a journey. There are peaks and valleys. But the best quarterbacks realize a score with seven minutes to go in the second quarter means the same as a last-second drive. If Cincinnati gets the Burrow that was laser-focused on the final drive more throughout the game, we’ll see the Bengals get off the schneid in the win column on Thursday.