Daniel McGowan ’23
I think it is safe to say most people were shocked to see how dominant Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals were in their Divisional Round road victory against the Buffalo Bills. With a final score of 27-10, fans, analysts, and even other players were surprised to see that Josh Allen and his offense were only able to put up one touchdown on the scoreboard at home. With Cincinnati looking to reach their second straight Super Bowl in a AFC Championship rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs, why should fans be giving the Bengals all the rightful respect they deserve? Let’s break down what makes the AFC North Champions so terrifying to play up against.
Joe Burrow Is That Guy
There isn’t necessarily anyone that argues Joe Burrow is not one of the elite quarterbacks in the league’s generation, but how is he ranked amongst his other talented peers? Burrow shows that he is constantly getting better every season, showing this in 2021 by finishing with impressive numbers. Especially after coming off an ACL Tear in 2020. But even after having a comeback season last year, Burrow has taken a major leap in his game. A key concept that makes a professional QB elite is their knowledge, awareness, and field generalization makes it almost impossible for opponents to play against. Burrow has some of the best defensive reading skills you have ever seen, as he is constantly able to read the coverage even when in a disguised look. He can read the zone and man coverage and where his receivers will be locked and free once the ball is snapped. On Sunday, Burrow was able to keep the great Buffalo defense on their toes as he was constantly switching audibles to leave the secondary and defensive line in constant confusion. And when the pocket closes, his mobility and awareness can be a great way to extend plays and hold on the ball just a second longer. If he can continuously pick apart the league’s best coverages, #9 is going to be a problem in the NFL for a long time.
Three Headed Monster
As great as Joe Burrow is, he can’t do it all on his own. So what makes his play style so calm and collected? That can be due to his incredible collection of offensive weapons. There’s not a lot you can say about reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’marr Chase, he has proven himself to be one of the best Wide Receivers in the NFL as he continues to be a reliable target for the Bengals to feed the ball to when they are in need of a big play. On Sunday, Ja’marr broke Randy Moss’s record for most playoff receiving yards in their first two season with 513 (previously 463). It’s a gift to have a player like Chase to have those take over performances in clutch moments. When you have the bond like the two LSU brothers Burrow and Chase, the connection is going to continue to grow and only get better moving forward. As much as Chase brings the fear and defensive planning in each game, there isn’t a whole lot to do when you leave Tee Higgins to make the clutch plays when Chase can’t provide them. Higgins’s size and incredible hands can be a problem for one-on-one coverage on the X or Z parts of the field, you can even put him in the slot to win battles and draw the attention of outside linebackers and defensive backs in the flats. With Burrow’s ability to put the ball in tight places, Higgins can make those jump ball catches that leaves a major height difference for most defensive backs. With two extremely athletic receivers, there is also a run attack that plays in contribution to Cincinnati’s impressive offensive lineup. Joe Mixion has been a Running Back in this league for a while, since being drafted in 2017 he has drastically improved his game each season with more rushing yards and being a reliable receiving back when converting short yardage in check downs. With all these reliable weapons, Burrow can have a field day on who to feed the ball in big time games.
Adjustments to the Offensive Line
During the 2022 off-season, the Bengals spent a fortune of their cap space to give Burrow more time to throw and feel more comfortable in the pocket during each and every game. Although Burrow can get the ball out remotely quick, as he holds the ball for 2.58 seconds before firing his release. Even though the ball is often out fast, it can still be hard to move around the pocket and scramble every single drop back or shotgun formation. This past Sunday, the O-Line managed to keep their Quarterback comfortable for the majority of the game. Although the Bills were able to record one sack, the big bodies up front played a big role in Joe Mixon’s 105 yard performance in the snow and Joe Burrow’s incredible 101.9% QBR. As there is still a drastic need of improvement, I think the brick wall for Joe Sheisty is on the way.
Game Of The Year
As many people are finally showing praise for the Bengals in the AFC, it seems like everyone forgot how well coached this team is. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, Zac Taylor has built himself an incredibly well balanced team that can be a fear and strong contributor in the Playoff hunt of the NFL for the next decade. As we wait for Sunday’s Championship games, just make sure not to doubt the Bengals in Kansas City. As Patrick Mahomes and his Chiefs will be hoping to get their win against the Bengals (currently 0-3 in last 3 match ups), they won’t be able to run all over this confident group of players.