Burrow’s limitations aside, Bengals have to execute better on offense

Through four games, Cincinnati ranks near bottom of NFL in several categories

CINCINNATI — Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said Wednesday this week has been the best he’s felt after a game, so he’s optimistic the improvement with his calf will pay dividends Sunday at Arizona.

Burrow seemed to be moving around a bit more in practice Wednesday than what he’s shown in past weeks during the portions open to media, and he said that mobility is how he judges progress. If that area of his game improves, the Bengals can get back to being a more explosive offense.

“We’re adding a little more each week,” Burrow said. “Today felt good. Hoping to do a little more tomorrow and a little more the next day. I’m optimistic for that part of my game.”

Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan re-iterated that Burrow’s mobility limitations aren’t an excuse for how this season has started, though. He too believes improvement for Burrow will come, but in the meantime, his solution is simple: Everyone just needs to execute better.

While there are things the Bengals can do to help Burrow, like holding up the protections longer, he needs to be better, too. He ranks 32nd in completion percentage at 57.6 percent, and the Bengals – whom some predicted to be Super Bowl winners this season – rank last in net offense (236.0 yards per game) and second-to-last in points scored (12.3 points per game).

“We’re not anywhere close to where we expected to be or have any desire to be,” Callahan said. “We’re not in a good place statistically for a lot of reasons, and we have to play better. At the end of the day, we need to win. And so however that looks for us, what matters most is coming home from Arizona with a win and moving from there.”

Callahan conceded it seems the most successful offenses in the NFL are led by quarterbacks that can extend plays with their legs.

Burrow is normally one of those quarterbacks but this season has rarely moved out of the pocket. That makes him an easy target, and the offensive line hasn’t been able to hold up long enough for him to get a good read of the field. Burrow’s time to throw clocks at 2.1 seconds, one of the worst in the league.

“It’s an added level of difficulty for sure,” right tackle Jonah Williams said. “It’s a tough play for the O-line because everyone knows what we’re doing. They can bring the pressure that they want and they also know where the quarterback is going to be, so it’s kind of that perfect storm of issues, but if we’re all perfect across the board, we’ll pick everything up and be fine, so we are focused on that. We have a lot of belief in Joe and what he can do, and obviously he’s a little limited now but we still believe he is one of the very best quarterbacks in the league and we just have to give him some time to let things happen.”

The Bengals have faced the likes of Jeffrey Simmons, Aaron Donald and Myles Garrett in their first four games, which doesn’t help. A more mobile Burrow can compensate for a missed block, and that hasn’t been the case.

Defenses are bringing pressure from every angle and blitzing more, too, which Burrow has traditionally done well against.

“You can get the ball out faster,” Burrow said. “You can come up with some ways to push the ball down the field in those situations. There are a lot of different ways we can handle it.”

Callahan said there are things with the play-calling and scheme the staff could do differently, but it’s difficult to change too much from one week to the next. The team usually needs a few weeks to work on anything new and feel comfortable running it in a game.

Asked if there is a point where the staff needs to tell Burrow to just let it rip and forget the calf, coach Zac Taylor said he leaves that up to Burrow and how he’s feeling. Callahan said Burrow has thrown deep balls in practices, leaving the staff to believe he can still do it in games. The Bengals haven’t had as many of those opportunities come gameday.

“My ability to throw hasn’t been effected,” Burrow said. “Mainly my ability to move in the pocket, run for first downs, extend plays, find that extra second. Maybe certain plays I would have slightly extended and found a completion. We’ve done a good job of not turning the ball over. Other than that, we have a lot of room to improve. The calf will continue to get better and we’ll get back to making plays outside of the structure and continue to get better at finding lanes in the pocket to find that extra second to push the ball down the field.”

That needs to happen quickly, or the Bengals need to find another way to win games. Burrow didn’t even let a reporter finish the question to ask if this Sunday at Arizona feels like a “must win” game.

“Gotta win,” Burrow said. “Whatever it takes. Doesn’t have to be pretty but we have to come out with the W.”


Bengals at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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