Burrow didn’t play any snaps in the preseason -- and really the only starter who did was rookie left guard Cordell Volson -- but the Bengals aren’t worried about that impacting their ability to start strong. They won’t have any trouble ramping up for a division game at home, and Burrow hasn’t really ever had a normal preseason anyway.
The Bengals gave him three snaps last preseason to ease back into game mode after a long recovery from ACL reconstruction, and in 2020, no one had a preseason. Both openers the past two years got off to slow starts with three straight punts before Cincinnati got its offense going for touchdowns the fourth drive. Last year, the Bengals scored touchdowns on three straight drives in the second quarter en route to a 27-24 win over Minnesota.
“That’s why you practice all week really hard,” Burrow said about shaking off any rust. “... You don’t want the pregame jitters, you want to hit the ground running in game one. So that comes with work in practice, in individual drill and team periods, you’ve got to get all that out during the week.”
Burrow already has a comfort level with most of his skill players, as the Big Three receivers and running back Joe Mixon are all back. Hayden Hurst replaces C.J. Uzomah, but Burrow said he only need a week with Hurst to get a sense of his tendencies.
The big question mark is how the new offensive line will perform for the first time together with four new starters joining left tackle Jonah Williams. Pittsburgh has led the league in sacks the past five years, including 55 last year with help from NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt’s 22.5 sacks. Burrow said it’s a good test for the offense Week 1, but his new linemen are “tough, physical, smart players” that are going to make a difference this season.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said in an opener with so many variables on both sides, having a quarterback like Burrow helps.
“It helps you sleep better at night when you have Joe Burrow playing quarterback for you,” Taylor said. “I can promise you that. Because there’s always unknowns, there’s always the excitement that comes with the game and we do everything we could to help our players, but we got really good players also, that makes it a little bit easier to sleep.”
Burrow said the key is just taking what the defense gives, whether that means more passing yards for him or relying on Mixon more or even just playing a clean game and allowing the defense and special teams to lead the way.
The two games against Pittsburgh last year were ones where Burrow threw for less than 200 yards, but others got the job done. The defense recorded at least one turnover in both meetings, including two interceptions and fumble recovery in a blowout win in Cincinnati. Mixon rushed for 165 yards in that second matchup after recording 90 yards on 18 carries in the game at Pittsburgh.
Turnovers are an area Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan wants to be a focus for Burrow this year after he struggled in that regard early last year but cleaned up in the second half and throughout the playoff run. Burrow couldn’t put a finger on why that changed, but said it had more to do with understanding better what it takes to win in the NFL.
“Every game calls for a different Joe,” Burrow said. “If our defense is playing great, I gotta protect the ball, we gotta run the ball well, take the opportunities when they’re there, but don’t push anything. If they’re scoring on the other side of the ball, I might have to take some chances. If we’re not running the ball as well, I might have to take some chances that normally I wouldn’t otherwise in a different game. Every game calls for something different.”
It’s just more fun when he’s able to throw for 530 yards, he joked.
Steelers at Bengals, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7