Now fully healed, the young signal-caller made his return to the field for the 2021 NFL season. However, the Bengals are playing with fire because they refuse to learn from their previous mistake.
Revisiting Joe Burrow’s rookie season with the Bengals
Joe Burrow completed one of the most impressive single seasons by a college football quarterback in 2019. The LSU product threw for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns while completing 76.3% of his passes. He threw just six interceptions on the year. Burrow led the Tigers to a convincing national championship victory.
The Bengals selected Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He had some pretty big shoes to fill, taking over a role held by Carson Palmer and Andy Dalton for 15 years.
Playing in the tough AFC North, no one realistically expected Cincinnati to be a contender. However, the Bengals faithful were hopeful for better days ahead.
The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner showed flashes of potential as a rookie. He made the most out of his opportunities, given the hand he was dealt. Burrow threw for 2,688 yards and 13 touchdowns to five interceptions in 2020. He finished with a passer rating of 89.8.
For all of the Bengals’ highs with Burrow under center, there were even more lows. The offensive line was abysmal. A lack of solid protection plagued the offense for the entire season. The issue finally reared its ugly head when their young quarterback suffered the season-ending injury.
The Bengals have serious issues on the offensive line
After losing their franchise quarterback to a gruesome knee injury, one would imagine the Bengals would do everything in their power to bolster their offensive line.
Cincinnati brought offensive line coach Frank Pollack back after he left the team before the 2020 season. The team found success up front with Pollack at the helm.
Jonah Williams was arguably the Bengals’ best offensive lineman in 2020. His 70.1 Pro Football Focus grade ranked second among six qualifying rookie or second-year left tackles behind only Mekhi Becton.
The front office brought in former Vikings offensive tackle Riley Reiff to replace Bobby Hart. Bobby Hart looked awful on several occasions during the 2020 season. Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo man the guard positions, and there were high hopes for them heading into 2021.
Trey Hopkins has been the team’s starting center for the past two seasons and played solid for the most part. The 2021 version of the Bengals offensive line projected as a significant upgrade from 2020.
However, the game is not played on paper. Many of the issues that plagued Cincinnati in 2020 are resurfacing through the first two weeks of the 2021 season.
Joe Burrow needs protection in order to be successful
Joe Burrow has already been sacked nine times in just two games. He’s taken countless other hits. That is unacceptable, especially after the way the 2020 season ended.
The Bengals received criticism for drafting wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase in the first round instead of an elite offensive tackle like Penei Sewell. The early returns on Chase were in question, but he has balled out in the regular season.
Still, wide receiver wasn’t the Bengals’ most important position of need. It was the offensive line and still is.
Even with the changes on the offensive line, this is still an uphill battle for the Bengals. Head coach Zac Taylor took some responsibility for the poor execution thus far early in the season. “As the coach, you don’t want to make that excuse,” said Taylor per The Athletic. “We’ve got to improve it, and we’ve got to do it now.”
The Bengals invested the 2020 top pick in their franchise quarterback but felt it was more important to surround him with weapons than to protect him.
If things continue to trend in this direction, Joe Burrow will take an absurd number of hits in 2021. There’s only but so much punishment the guy can take.