Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow’s rookie season was defined by a lack of protection.
During the third quarter of Sunday’s 20-9 loss to the Washington Football Team, Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow was hit by two defenders on a third-down pass and suffered an ACL and MCL tear in his left knee in addition to other structural damage. Subsequently, the 2020 NFL Draft’s first-overall pick was carted off the field and will miss the remainder of his debut season.
To add insult to injury, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor opted to defend Cincinnati’s offensive line later that afternoon during a media session with reporters when discussing Burrow’s injury. When asked if there was more the protection unit could have done to protect their franchise quarterback, the second-year coach was unapologetic regarding the Bengals approach.
Taylor’s comments sum that troubling sentiment up well, via Bengals Wire/USA Today:
“It’s hard for me because all we can do is make progress as this season goes and we gave up a lot of pressure early in the season. In these last couple weeks, our guys have done a great job of keeping people off Joe, he’s had a great pocket. He did not have a sack in the first half, in the hit as I saw it, wasn’t when he had the ball in his hand. And people keep talking about the offensive line without it seemingly watching the film from the last four weeks. And so, again, those guys have done a good job. It’s been a revolving door of players; we’re doing a great job. Joe’s done a good job moving us down the field, and we felt like we’re making a lot of progress over the last five weeks, and we’re not going to apologize for any of that.”
Although it’s admirable that Taylor is willing to go bat for his players, it should be noted that his given position on the Bengals protection issues is misguided and highlights a lack of experience as a head coach.
The Bengals offensive line has been awful in 2020; The numbers don’t lie
Either way, you shake it, when the dust settles it’s obvious the Bengals have done an extremely poor job of protecting their quarterback in 2020 and his injury on Sunday afternoon in Week 11 showed it finally caught up with them.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Bengals unit ranked 28th in the league in Pass-Block Win Rate. Furthermore, ESPN maintains that Burrow has been sacked 32 times this season while the rookie passer had been hit a league-high 72 times this season through nine weeks prior to the game against Washington.
Basically, the Cincinnati Bengals’ front office and coaching staff haven’t done an adequate job of protecting their investment. The executives knew the offensive line was inferior dating back to last season and haven’t acquired the roster talent necessary to allow the team’s coaching staff to be successful in their mandate to simultaneously develop and protect that investment.
Honestly, one would think Taylor might condemn his unit’s performance and demand improvement while also demanding full-fledged support from the Bengals decision-makers moving forward. True leadership is rare and nobody is mistaking Taylor for Bill Belichick. But at the same time, this unfortunate event serves as an opportunity to continue rebuilding the Bengals culture and feels like a gigantic swing-and-miss for the head coach.
Denial and refusing to accept responsibility in the matter won’t do Taylor any favors pertaining to his relationship with Burrow. A simple apology and acknowledgment that he’s wrong might suffice. After all, it can be presumed that his job might eventually depend on it.
How do you think Burrow feels at the moment? It wouldn’t be off the wall to consider the notion that perhaps the youngster is analyzing the situation today while laying in a Cincinnati hospital bed, wondering what measures the team might take towards protecting him in the future? Maybe he’s even pondering why they haven’t taken those steps already?
Burrow was drafted first overall, and he’s certainly the Bengals’ immediate future. If the team wants to see the former-Heisman Trophy winner in their long-term future it’s necessary that upgrades in protection become the franchise’s main priority moving forward into the offseason.