CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff and front office knew they needed to better protect Joe Burrow after watching him take sack after sack and play through multiple injuries last season.
But a nine-sack outing against Tennessee in the playoffs emphasized as much as any other game the importance of rebuilding the offensive line. Cincinnati’s defense and kicker Evan McPherson bailed out the team in that 19-16 win, and the Bengals addressed their biggest need in the offseason with four new starters on the line through free agency and the draft.
As the Bengals head back to Nashville for a Week 12 matchup with the Titans on Sunday, Burrow believes the growth of his offensive line this season will be on full display. Cincinnati’s offense has become among the top in the league in several statistical categories after a slow start.
“I think those guys are playing as good as anybody in the league right now,” Burrow said of his offensive linemen. “As much we just straight drop back, it’s really been great to see the growth of those guys up front and the communication and the camaraderie and the chemistry. We got a great culture in that room and they just keep getting better and better. I’m excited about where they’re at.”
Asked what he remembers most about the playoff game at Tennessee, Burrow pointed out the physicality of the Titans and the need to match that in order to be successful Sunday.
Burrow still managed to throw for 348 yards against the Titans in that playoff game but didn’t throw a touchdown pass. The Bengals relied on four Evan McPherson field goals, including the game-winner as time expired, and a Joe Mixon rushing touchdown to prevail.
“Sometimes, games go that way,” Burrow said. “They’ve got a good front, so they’re going to get pressure. It’s going to be about how we handle it and get the ball out quickly, get our completions and move the ball up and down the field.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said that game showed the resiliency of the team and its ability to respond after negative plays, but the Titans were a part of exposing the need to bring in veterans like Alex Cappa and Ted Karras. Defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons had three sacks in that game.
The Titans still have a strong defensive line in 2022. They have limited opponents to 82 yards rushing per game (second best run defense in the league) and produced 30 sacks, including 7.0 from outside linebacker Denico Autry and 6.5 from Simmons. They rank eighth in points allowed per game (18.5). They are allowing 266 yards passing per game, among the third most in the league.
Autry, who had 1.5 sacks on Burrow last year, was held out of practices early in the week because of a knee injury, and Simmons was limited by an ankle injury but still is expected to play.
Burrow said in addition to the improvement from the offensive line, he’s come a long way in how he handles pressure since that last matchup with Tennessee. Both of those should factor in Sunday, he said.
“I’ve just seen more football,” Burrow said. “I can get the protections directed a little better than I could. Just getting the ball out quickly. Whenever you’re in the offense, understanding where the ball is supposed to go.”
Cincinnati will be missing running back Joe Mixon, who has been in concussion protocol all week, but could get wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase back vs. the Titans. Chase has missed the last three games due to a fractured hip, but resumed practice this week.
Bengals at Titans, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, Ch. 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7