How to Solve the Cincinnati Bengals' Sack Problem

Dallas Cowboys ER Micah Parsons
Dallas Cowboys ER Micah Parsons
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 3 - The Cincinnati Bengals offense is a heap of hot garbage right now, and it threatens to ruin Joe Burrow.

The Bengals have allowed 13 sacks through two games. They are on a 110.5-sack pace, which would break the record of 104 sacks allowed set by the 1986 Philadelphia Eagles. The Bengals are on that record pace after allowing Burrow to get sacked a league-high 51 times in 2021 and after losing Burrow to an ACL tear after 32 sacks in just 10 games in 2020.

Burrow is under siege despite the fact that the Bengals added veterans La'el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras to their offensive line this season. And of course, the defending AFC champions are 0-2 after losses to a pair of beatable opponents: the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dak Prescott-less Dallas Cowboys. The Bengals currently rank dead last in the NFL in offensive DVOA.

There are multiple culprits for the Bengals' September sack-tastrophe: Collins, rookie left guard Cordell Volson, left tackle Jonah Williams, head coach Zac Taylor, and Burrow himself, plus all credit where due to edge rushers such as T.J. Watt and Micah Parsons.

Isolating the Bengals pass protection problem isn't going to be easy. Finding potential solutions will be even trickier. But it must be done, because more than the 2022 season is on the line if Burrow starts flirting with all-time sack records.

The La'el Collins/Jonah Williams Problem

When it comes to La'el Collins' issues so far this season, one image is worth a thousand words.

Granted, Micah Parsons caused video game glitches against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line too. But he actually did this to Collins twice, silly spin cycle and all: Burrow just got rid of the ball at the last moment on the second occasion.

Here's another ugly rep for both Collins and the whole Bengals line, as well as more support for Parsons' early Defensive Player of the Year case:

The Cowboys rush three defenders on that play, and the Bengals block with six, yet Burrow still takes a clean-up sack from Leighton Vander Esch, largely because Parsons spins inside of Collins and forces Burrow to move.

Collins has allowed at least two sacks and multiple pressures this season. He has also committed a pair of false starts. Jonah Williams was responsible for multiple sacks in the Steelers loss. If the Bengals' issue were just a Parsons or T.J. Watt problem, it could be easily solved. But it's also an Alex Highsmith and Dorance Armstrong problem. It has been open season on Burrow off both the right and left edges for two straight games.

Collins, who was released for cap reasons by the Cowboys in the offseason, has been a dependable right tackle for several years. Williams was the Bengals' best offensive lineman in 2020 and 2021, for whatever that's worth. Zac Taylor and the Bengals may have mistaken the pair for prime Anthony Muñoz and Willie Anderson. Both Collins and Williams are fine, given support by tight ends or (in Collins' case) a mobile quarterback and a scheme full of drive-blocking opportunities and quick-passing concepts. Neither Williams nor Collins is suited to block on an island for 40-plus dropbacks per game. And Collins may still be hampered by an offseason back injury; at times, he moves like a man who is afraid to turn his head.

Volson has also had some bad reps as a run-blocker and a pass-protector, but it's unfair to pin too much of the blame on him when the bookend tackles keep falling off the shelf.

Joe Burrow is Developing Bad Habits

Here's Burrow forgetting that he is not Lamar Jackson late in the second quarter against the Cowboys. He has already taken several wallops at this point:

Burrow never really sets at the end of his drop on this sack. Instead, he steps straight up into pressure before busting out the spin moves and ersatz superheroics. That sack led to a punt which gave the Cowboys favorable field position, setting up a long field goal before halftime.

While the sack above got lots of Twitter attention, the play that preceded it was just as illuminating. Tank Lawrence blew past a tumbling Collins, Dante Fowler beat Kappa with an inside move, and Burrow tried to shotput a short pass underneath while eluding them. The ball squirted free when Fowler struck Burrow's arm; fortunately, Joe Mixon pounced on the fumble.

Burrow's pocket presence has never been great. I felt it was improving throughout last year. But Burrow is now starting to do Carson Wentz stuff. He's trying to make impossible plays, and it's costing the Bengals turnovers and field position.

It may also start costing Burrow his health. Two of the three longest Bengals plays from scrimmage last Sunday were Burrow scrambles capped by unnecessary roughness fouls. So even when he's not getting sacked, Burrow is taking hits. This is how quarterbacks get broken while still on their rookie contracts.

Zac Taylor and Miscommunication

Go back and look at that last Burrow sack. Notice Samaje Perine in an "up-back" position? Taylor loves that formation: empty backfield except for a blocking back aligned in front of Burrow in shotgun. Perine replaced tight end Drew Sample, who lined up as a blocking up-back several times before suffering an injury.

That formation, designed to allow Sample or Perine to pick up interior blitzes, did more harm than good against the Cowboys. Early in the second quarter, Sample aligned 2 yards behind the left guard to pick up the double A-gap blitz the Cowboys were threatening. But the blitz was a feint, as it so often is, and the Bengals' protection scheme was so fouled up that Parsons got a free rush on Burrow while Collins blocked a different defender. Here's Brian Baldinger's breakdown of that play:

There's some chatter in Bengals country about whether empty backfield formations are to blame for some of the Bengals' pass protection woes. Burrow himself appeared to yell "no empty set" to the sideline during one timeout, though he just as easily could be saying "go empty, Zac" or "Yo! MTV Raps!"

Empty backfields themselves don't appear to be the problem, as Burrow is often getting sacked despite six-man protection. The problem is that the protection assignments don't appear to match the Bengals' needs or the opposing defense's threat. There's little effort to support Collins or specifically address Watt/Parsons types. And as Baldinger notes, communication among the linemen appears to be an issue. Someone—Collins, Burrow, Karras, Taylor, or his assistants—should have examined the situation before the snap on the play shown above and realized that they needed to get a hat on Parsons.

Oh, and none of the Bengals tight ends appear capable of blocking.

Solving the Bengals' Sack Problem

The good news for the Bengals is that they face the Jets and Dolphins over the next two weeks, two teams without a Parsons-/Watt-caliber marquee edge rusher. The bad news is that the Jets are feisty and the Dolphins have replaced the Bengals as Team Bombs Away who can score from anywhere. Also, the Dolphins defense finished fourth in adjusted sack rate in 2021 and proved in Week 1 that they are capable of shutting down a dysfunctional offense. The Bengals don't just need to prevent sacks. They also need to start scoring some points if they don't want to sink to the bottom of the AFC playoff picture.

Here are some things the Bengals can do to make their offense functional again:

Protect or bench La'el Collins. Zac Taylor needs to plant a tight end next to Collins on every deep-dropback passing concept in the short term. If Collins is still suffering the effects of his back injury or doesn't fit the Bengals system, it may be—oh no oh no oh no—Hakeem Adeniji or D'Ante Smith time.

Emphasize the quick game. Taylor wants to engage the Burrow-to-Ja'Marr Chase turbochargers that got the Bengals to the Super Bowl last year, but it just ain't happening right now. Burrow has been able to connect with Chase and other receivers on slants and shorter routes, however, and the Bengals can be an effective YAC team if they choose to be. It's time to shorten Burrow's drops and time to throw, and reduce his air yards until the sack emergency subsides.

Diversify the running game. Joe Mixon is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry, though he is running hard and the Bengals line looks better when moving straight forward. Let Mixon plow off right tackle behind double teams more often so Collins can do what he does best. Or mix in more counters or misdirection. Taylor appears to treat the running game as an afterthought or "waste pitch," a common problem among some of the Mini-McVays. Right now, the Bengals running game is doing nothing to dissuade pass rushers, and when it creates manageable down-and-distance situations, that just leads to another problem.

Fix the third-and-medium play calling. The Bengals rank 24th in third-and-medium DVOA, with Burrow getting sacked on one third-and-4 and walloped on an incomplete pass on another against the Cowboys. This is a situation where a more robust quick game would help. Even running on third-and-4 should be an occasional option for a team that should also have no fear of fourth-down aggressiveness.

The Bengals offense also ranks 32nd in first down DVOA, but there are so many problems baked into that ranking—sacks, stuffs, incomplete passes, penalties that set up first-and-15—that's it's more of a symptom than a cause of their ills.

Blast that "up-back" formation out of the solar system. All it's providing right now is a false sense of security.

Unfortunately, the only real solution to the Bengals' sack problems is a non-solution. Everyone just has to be better: the whole line, Burrow, Taylor. Better execution, better communication, better schemes. And they need to hurry before Burrow's pocket clock—or his body—gets shattered.

The Fourth-Down Shotgun Sneak Conundrum

When the Green Bay Packers stopped Justin Fields on fourth-and-goal on a "QB Power" run from a shotgun formation on Sunday, it sparked a lively conversation on the Football Outsiders Discord Channel (something you should totally be a part of). Some readers wondered whether lining up in the shotgun in short-yardage situations is a terrible idea.

Our readers are by no means alone. Short-yardage shotgun formations have been a point of contention for Eagles fans since the Chip Kelly era. And CBS Sports Analyst/Pro Football Hall of Fame Semifinalist/Friend of Walkthrough Amy Trask waxed poetic about her concerns after the Fields stop:

Clearly, it was time for Walkthrough to do something we're loath to do: actual research.

From 2020 through Week 1 of the 2022 season, NFL teams ran from shotgun formations on fourth down with 2 yards or less to go 152 times, converting 101 first downs or touchdowns for a 66.4% conversion rate. All of the data clumps cited in this segment include handoffs, designed quarterback runs, and scrambles.

In that same span, NFL teams ran from under-center formations on fourth downs with 2 yards or less to go 360 times, converting 252 first downs or touchdowns for a 70.0% conversion rate. The difference in rates is too small to be meaningful.

But what about the exact Fields/Bears situation: fourth-and-goal from the 1? Teams are 7-of-15 converting touchdowns in that situation from the shotgun and 13-of-16 from under center. That looks more significant, though the sample is small and likely full of other distortions.

A team that lines up in the shotgun on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line is, superficially at least, in better position to pass than a team that lines up under center. Teams attempted 25 passes from the shotgun in this situation from 2020 through Week 1, resulting in nine touchdowns, as well as one interception and one sack. Teams attempted 12 fourth-and-goal-from-the-1 passes from under center, converting 10 touchdowns.

All of the evidence leans toward the conclusion that shotgun formations are a bad idea on fourth-and-short around the goal line. Of course, there are all sorts of variables in play.

Lets take a quick look at the design of the Fields play:

It's quarterback power with a pulling lineman, no option fake to the running back, no subterfuge. If a team wants to execute short-yardage plays from the shotgun to take advantage of their dual-threat quarterback, Walkthrough recommends using some wrinkles to keep the defense from just crashing the line of scrimmage: motion, spreading the field, a 300-pound defensive tackle at tight end on the far side, a read-option fake, anything that might freeze a linebacker.

It's also worth noting that Lamar Jackson got stuffed and fumbled on a goal line sneak against the Miami Dolphins while under center on Sunday. Sometimes, the defense just makes a play.

Comments

46 comments, Last at 23 Sep 2022, 1:22pm

#1 by Raiderfan // Sep 21, 2022 - 10:12am

I am shocked that you wrote an article that failed to address Brady’s marriage anywhere.

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#3 by ImNewAroundThe… // Sep 21, 2022 - 10:33am

He's snarked at Rodgers more often recently.

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#2 by ImNewAroundThe… // Sep 21, 2022 - 10:31am

Oops!

And shotgun just increases the the margin of error. What happened in Baltimore seems pretty rare, that it not only failed but went that far back. More likely to have a bad snap from shotgun go over you're head than straight under center.

At least have some type of option from shotgun (R(jump?)PO,  something). Just barreling an extra 4.5 yards doesn't seem smart!

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#4 by Pat // Sep 21, 2022 - 10:36am

 

Emphasize the quick game. Taylor wants to engage the Burrow-to-Ja'Marr Chase turbochargers that got the Bengals to the Super Bowl last year, but it just ain't happening right now. 

I still think this is a huge portion of the problem, and I mean huge. Look at Vander Esch's sack. There's one receiver (Boyd) planted like a damn tree and vast amounts of open field space with no Cowboys defenders in sight. No one even considers the possibility of a middle-field threat there. And Boyd is sitting at the friggin' first down marker.

I mean, think about how bad that play call is. They're down 11 in the 3rd. It's 3rd and 4 and a first down gets them in the red zone. And no one works the open middle of the field right where the first down is!

I'm blaming Taylor because he's supposed to be setting the reads for Burrow and Burrow is like, never bothering to look short. If you're a QB, you hit your drop and can see the rush, the sack's partly on either the QB or the playcaller.

Blind side pressure I can understand, but pressure up the middle or to his right? C'mon.

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#6 by theslothook // Sep 21, 2022 - 11:13am

This was my feeling as well. None of the route combinations on those gifs were there as instant safety valves for pressure. 

I've mentioned earlier, you can mitigate bad offensive line play to an extent with faster decision making and anticipation, but also with proper routes.

The play above suggests that's a Taylor failing but that could also be on Burrow as well as he just doesn't like plays where there's an obvious safety valve. 

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#8 by colonialbob // Sep 21, 2022 - 11:25am

The play under "develops bad habits" has not one but two safety valves, Burrow has just already decided to run around in the backfield and try to hero-ball it. Might be a chicken and egg thing, most of their plays not having those routes -> Burrow isn't in the habit of looking for them -> when they are there he's too used to scrambling around and launching to Chase. Or, as you mentioned, it could go the other way where he doesn't look for them -> they don't run them. But even in that case, I'd say it's at least partly on the head coach to fix that behavior, especially for a young QB.

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#13 by mehllageman56 // Sep 21, 2022 - 11:38am

If there was a week to use safety valves, it would be this one.  The Jets haven't been able to cover short passes to running backs ever since Saleh got there; the linebackers and safeties are bad in coverage.  If the Bengals do try to keep throwing deep, the Jets safeties may allow some bombs, but the corners have been good, even Michael Carter II, and the front seven might get to Burrow anyway.  Also, watch out for Michael Clemons; he's gotten pressure, and looked good in preseason.  He also knocked Tyrod Taylor out of a game in preseason and hit Brissett late twice last week (he only got called once for it).

Watching the Cowboys-Bengals highlights, every Cowboys pass looked like a jailbreak, but Rush got the pass off most of the time.  I'm a little concerned there about Ol' Man Flacco.

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#7 by DocPossum // Sep 21, 2022 - 11:17am

If they really want to avoid empty sets, it shows how far out of their minds the short game is. Empty sets are a way to relieve pressure because you can identify the pressure and you get the ball out quick.

Maybe the oline is atrocious enough to make this unrealistic, but then it seems there are no realistic ways to fix the protection except pray that everyone eventually plays up to their talent level and the coaching staff can get them coordinating and communicating.

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#12 by Pat // Sep 21, 2022 - 11:38am

Maybe the oline is atrocious enough to make this unrealistic,

It's definitely not that atrocious! Look at those sacks - if Burrow's hitting his drop step with no pressure and has 2+ seconds to throw overall, it's not 100+ sacks a season bad.

Even in the play that Baldy's commenting on, Parsons is not coming off of Burrow's blind side. He knows Parsons is to his right. He's got to learn to see in his peripheral vision what's going on over there. He doesn't need to get hit. Drop step, chuck it away, it's a screw up, move on. Or step up a second or something.

I think a lot of this is that Burrow's probably not working with the OL enough to understand what he needs to do. Like, if Micah Parsons is a huge problem, Burrow just needs to know where he is and deal with it. Is that a great solution? Heck no. But it's better than 6+ sacks a game.

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#5 by dryheat // Sep 21, 2022 - 10:50am

I think it's as simple as getting different offensive linemen does not equal getting competent offensive linemen.

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#9 by Pat // Sep 21, 2022 - 11:28am

If Burrow keeps playing the way he is, they don't need competent offensive linemen, they need elite offensive linemen.

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#10 by KnotMe // Sep 21, 2022 - 11:31am

They got well regarded vets. Given it has been a few years you wonder if their ability coach lines is suspect. 

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#16 by dryheat // Sep 21, 2022 - 12:48pm

I don't know much about Kappa, but Karras has been a backup since he's been in the league, and Collins was never as good as his name recognition in his prime, which has certainly passed.  Changing guys who aren't good enough to be starting NFL linemen with different guys who aren't good enough to be starting NFL linemen would seem to yield similar results.

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#18 by serutan // Sep 21, 2022 - 1:09pm

But when there is a lot of churn in O-line personnel it takes time for the new line to gel, regardless of the individual talent.  So there's a least a chance the line will not be a season long problem.

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#37 by RickD // Sep 21, 2022 - 10:37pm

Part of it is that linemen are not plug-and-play.  They need to learn how to work together.  Working as a unit is essential.

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#14 by BigRichie // Sep 21, 2022 - 11:48am

You get the pass off quicker under center. Which with 11 defenders right at the line of scrimmage when at the 1-yard line, is quite useful.

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#15 by BigRichie // Sep 21, 2022 - 11:50am

Watching Rodgers taught me that. Just startling how quickly he gets that immediate pass off. Clearly faster than anyone else I've ever seen.

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#17 by OmahaChiefs13 // Sep 21, 2022 - 1:08pm

Citation needed.

Especially since that flies in the face of every mechanic involved with an under-center snap and drop..."it looks/feels like" probably isn't very compelling.

Rodgers might very well get goal-line under-center snaps off very fast....but that's as likely or more likely to be a function of Rodgers and/or the playcall than a function of being under center vs. in the gun.

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#21 by BigRichie // Sep 21, 2022 - 2:11pm

In reply to by OmahaChiefs13

Under center the snap goes immediately right to your hand with the laces in the same exact spot every time.

In shotgun it takes the snap longer enough for pass rushers to get 1-2 steps in. And you have to find the laces. So say 1 more pass rusher step.

As to, say, a 7-step dropback, given that you're then already back to where you want to be, I've no doubt you can do that faster via shotgun. But the 1-step thing that Rodgers and some others fling out there immediately, that's much quicker right under center. Which I suggest is more relevant right near the goal line.

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#23 by OmahaChiefs13 // Sep 21, 2022 - 2:30pm

You don't need citations if you want it to be just your opinion, sure. But it's also not as self-evident as you're trying to make it, either.

The time it takes for the ball to be snapped in shotgun and for the laces to be located (seriously?) is on the order of small fractions of a second...time that is made up by (likely more than made up by) the time it takes to receive the snap, straighten up, and take even that one step drop.

It certainly isn't a "one or two steps by the pass rush" delta in time.

Especially when you consider that one of the reasons the shotgun was developed in the first place was to provide additional time/distance for rushers to have to cover.

So, yeah....if you want to demonstrate that it is actually faster, you're going to have to actually, you know, demonstrate it. Using more than a single QB and "it looks like".

I understand why you'd like it to be self-evident...it's probably going to be difficult to find numbers to prove. That doesn't make it actually self-evident mechanically.

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#24 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 21, 2022 - 2:33pm

Especially when you consider that one of the reasons the shotgun was developed in the first place was to provide additional time/distance for rushers to have to cover.

It originated as "short punt formation." So exactly for that purpose.

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#25 by OmahaChiefs13 // Sep 21, 2022 - 2:55pm

There are other benefits that come with the formation that lend themselves to very quick passing at the goal line, too...for example, a QB is going to have much better visibility on quick-stemming routes from shotgun than standing up from under center and taking even an abbreviated one-step drop.

But there's no point even really talking about those until we've established that it actually is faster under center with an abbreviated drop.

I suspect any delta...in either direction....is going to be very small, and might not even be relevant. But hard tellin' not knowin'.

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#29 by KnotMe // Sep 21, 2022 - 3:53pm

In reply to by OmahaChiefs13

I couldn't find anything how formation impacts release time.  I suspect the getting the ball out quick is more a function of the QB assuming the play has a target available quickly.

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#31 by OmahaChiefs13 // Sep 21, 2022 - 4:39pm

I'd be surprised if anybody actually measures it...especially since we'd need to be measuring the time from the snap to when the QB is set, not necessarily the overall time-to-throw.

And yes, I suspect Rodgers is very fast on those throws...but because Rodgers, not because under center. I don't think anyone would be surprised by that 

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#32 by BigRichie // Sep 21, 2022 - 4:42pm

Really. Really, guys. In one case the ball is right in your hands. In the other, it's got to travel 10-some feet, and then yes, you have to control it and find the laces. In case you haven't heard, passers use them while passing the ball. Or do you need a study or some citation for that?

I think the best parallel here is the baseball steroid deniers of some 15-years ago, right after the crackdown.

Deniers: There's no evidence steroid use has gone down. None. (you meathead deplorables)

Bill James: Guys. Just use your eyes. Look. Look how much smaller the players are now than 1-2 years ago. Just. Look.

Maybe I wouldn't have noticed this either except for being a Packer fan and so seeing Rodgers week-in week-out. Snap-to-Rodgers-ball-immediately-in-Adams'(most often)-hands-8-yards-right-down-line-of-scrimmage. Just immediately.

 

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#33 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 21, 2022 - 4:53pm

We've spent no time at all determining whether the important condition is satisfied:

Which with 11 defenders right at the line of scrimmage when at the 1-yard line, is quite useful.

Is it actually better? Faster cuts both ways -- you don't have a chance to see how the defense is playing the snap because you instantly went into a throwing motion.

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#38 by OmahaChiefs13 // Sep 21, 2022 - 10:55pm

If it's high school physics, it should be pretty easy to figure out which one takes longer: a ball being thrown 10 feet, or a QB taking a snap, standing up, and taking a step or so back.

Even if the ball is traveling a pretty leisurely 25 MPH, that's less than a third of a second. A QB probably isn't standing up, taking a step back, and finding his receivers quite that fast.

But you're being allowed the opportunity to demonstrate how I'm wrong....feel free. I mean, in all this time you've spent insisting it's self-evident via high school debate tactics, you could have just found the data...especially if it's so clear and obvious.

This is FO....just repeating something loudly and aggressively doesn't make it true. Neither does calling anyone who doesn't just believe you stupid or a "denier". Bring data, or admit that you're speculating something that might not actually be true, and demanding self-evidence because you know you can't actually demonstrate it.

The loud noises really aren't compelling.

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#20 by JoelBarlow // Sep 21, 2022 - 1:49pm

is a tad overrated these days as a combo and as individuals

and its not like they were mediocre in the regular season and then great in the postseason. they made the SB winning weird games by 3 points when the opponent s melted down and they went 8-8 on 50 yard FGs or whatever

Burrow seems in particular to be the rare overlap god amongst the tape eaters and among the Trent Dilfer style analysts that are obsessed with moxie or whatever

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#26 by jheidelberg // Sep 21, 2022 - 3:03pm

Agreed, and lets add in that the Bengals beat the negative DVOA Raiders and Titans in the playoffs.

The odds of getting a draw in which you play two below average teams in the playoffs must be very low as we can not find many below average teams in the playoffs.

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#28 by OmahaChiefs13 // Sep 21, 2022 - 3:28pm

Two of their signature wins were against the same team: KC.

Both of which not only fall into the "weird 2 half meltdown" buckets you mentioned, but that were both also heavily based on the fact that Ja'Marr Chase is hilariously, absurdly better at his job than Charvarious Ward is at his.

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#39 by lightsout85 // Sep 22, 2022 - 3:58am

Last year, Burrow was very, very good when he was getting a pass off (including amazing accuracy>expectation). But, it seems that even in more niche football communities, a lot people continue to need to be reminded that it's well within the QB's ability to keep a lower sack-rate (/the QB is most responsible) - and that's backed up with analytics. It's also proven analytically that sacks are drive killers (CIN was 17th in Off DSR last year). By PFF, last year Burrow was 4th worst (min 200 DB) in % of pressures that turned into sacks (& yet their top graded QB by passing grade - because they're one of the people who need to be reminded we have to sufficiently punish QBs for sacks). His % of dropbacks under pressure wasn't even that bad. He was sandwiched between Cousins & Lawrence, but their %-as-sacks were more than 10% better than Burrow (so, it's not just BECAUSE he was under more pressure than a lot of QBs).

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#22 by theslothook // Sep 21, 2022 - 2:25pm

I should say, I am not surprised by this start from the Bengals. In many of the games I saw of theres, the offense was powered in part by the run game and a big play offense. Well, run games are hard to count on and so are big plays. Take both of those away and the Bengals offense becomes much shakier. I like Burrow, but I noted that for the team to buck the Superbowl hangover, he would need to improve which was certainly possible given this was his third year.

I suspect he will improve as the season goes on, but this is going to be a year of growing pains I think.

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#27 by Pat // Sep 21, 2022 - 3:23pm

I guess I'm most confused as to what the heck people's expectations were for the Bengals in the first place. FO had them as the 11th overall team but 13th in mean wins because of a hard schedule. And I sure as heck didn't think they were a serious Super Bowl contender. 

FO had them as a borderline wild-card team (NE/DEN both had pretty close win projections to them) and so if they end up just outside the playoffs (as in, within a game or two) that wouldn't surprise me.

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#30 by KnotMe // Sep 21, 2022 - 3:56pm

Given that they spent the offseason trying to improve and have the "young QB" thing going,  people probably expected about the same as last year with the improvement maybe balancing out the luck regression.

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#34 by DisplacedPackerFan // Sep 21, 2022 - 4:58pm

It doesn't feel that way with the sources I look at. They were a -0.1% DVOA team last year. Basically NFL average. It feels like people expected them to be Super Bowl contenders because they made it last year. I hear a lot of Super Bowl hangover talk too. It feels like people expected them to be KC or BUF, not 2021 IND or LAC (which is what modest improvement on average gets you).

My expectations were a 15% DVOA team at best (average 3 seed) and a -5% DVOA team at worst (7 to 9 wins likely out of the playoffs). I had the range showing modest improvement because, as you mentioned, young quarterback and an attempt to fix some of their personnel flaws in the offseason. I had some hope that the coaching might improve and evolve the offense more away from the run and big plays that it had been. That last part hasn't happened. Of course getting back to 10% DVOA from the -29.3% they are at now is not completely uncommon. 0-2 starts are bad for making the playoffs, but bad early season DVOA becoming better than average isn't as hard because DVOA captures that you can play well in a loss to a better opponent. CIN having the 2nd hardest schedule by DVOA going forward is going to see more good teams. Also if they have a blowout win along the way that can still go a long way to upping DVOA when you have a sample size of 17 games.

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#40 by Pat // Sep 22, 2022 - 7:45am

I get the argument for why they *could* improve, but it wasn't *likely*. Last year they dumped money into defense, which does show rapid results. This year it was OL, which doesn't. Last year was rookie QB year 2, which on average has a large improvement. This is year 3, which doesn't. I basically figured they'd keep pace with last year (non playoff version).

Of course they're also the Bengals, so that's a knock against them.

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#41 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 22, 2022 - 7:55am

What do you mean? Mike Brown is spending a lot more now. He’s even going Dutch on player salaries. 

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#43 by Pat // Sep 22, 2022 - 1:15pm

In reply to by JoelBarlow

Same thing happened with Rex Grossman and the Bears: the difference is that with Grossman it was the beginning of the season and died out quickly, whereas it looks like with Burrow it was late in the season and just continued all offseason.

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#35 by horn // Sep 21, 2022 - 6:09pm

Carson: 7 TDs, 4 INTs

Ryan, who you swore up and down would be way better: 1 TD, 4 INTs

Joe Burrow: 3 TDs, 4 INTs, 73.1 rating. 

He wishes he was doing Carson Wentz' 'stuff' this year.

....and last I checked, Carson didn't have J. Taylor this season.

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#46 by KnotMe // Sep 23, 2022 - 1:22pm

It will be interesting to see how an improved Jets Defence(that doesn't have Micah Parsons or TJ Watt) will do. 

Points: 0

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