The Bengals flexed their Murphy’s Law muscles in Burrow’s NFL debut, completely wasting chance after chance in the fourth quarter to steal a win in week one, against — spoiler — a pretty crappy football team in the Los Angeles Chargers.
For the most part, Sunday afternoon delivered a ton of excitement about the present and future in Burrow-led Cincinnati. But again, it reminded the faithful fans why the Bengals wound up with the top pick last year. Errors, just errors on top of errors on top of a ton of positive flashes from No. 9.
Here are the takeaways and team grades from an emotional week one in Cincy:
Burrow will grade higher on his own (we’ll get to him) but Cincinnati’s offense reeked of the city’s baseball counterpart. Like the Reds, the Bengals left food on the table on offense today. The particular moments are (1) the end of the game fiasco obviously. I have some words for the coaches in a minute but the overall management of the fourth and of the offensive game plan throughout the day left a lot to be desired.
The offensive line was an F triple-minus. It’s hard not to brutalize Bobby Hart, but the dude was an afternoon snack for Joey Bosa — and the rest of the line wasn’t much better, Jonah Williams aside. Hopefully, we’ll see a more organized and pass-based attack, but I’m not too inspired by this coaching staff yet.
They held their ground at every fourth down and only gave up the go-ahead field goal because of Mixon’s first fumble in 621 carries. The linebacking crew has been completely revamped with youth and athleticism, Germaine Pratt looks every bit a quality starter while Bynes and the rookie trio are all over the field. I love what I saw from them.
The D-line never generates the pass-rush I wish it would, and the defense against the run wasn’t great, but credit the big guys up front because when short yardage third downs and fourth downs came down to the fight for the trenches, the guys in stripes dominated as they used to during the peak years of the Marvin Lewis era.
The secondary held strong, as they should against Tyrod Taylor and an average receiving corps. A few penalties were debilitating though and as always, that needs to be fixed. However, safety Jessie Bates and cornerback William Jackson III each played superbly.
Grading the debut: B+
Rookies almost unanimously struggle in their debuts. Adjusting to the hyper-sped mental and physical aspects of pro football at the sport’s trickiest position is not a one-week task. 23-36 for 198 and an interception isn’t great, but it’s acceptable given the circumstance.
Burrow flat out struggled at moments on Sunday. He was skittish in the pocket, struggling to settle in against one of the NFL’s premier defensive lines while his own O-lineman might as well have been traffic cones to Joey Bosa. He kept the ball far too long far too often, stumbling into sacks left and right while taking a variety of wince-inducing licks from a swarming LAC defense. He also missed a few open receivers that easily could have had touchdowns. Lastly, he threw a horrendous shuffle pass that was gobbled up by an opposing defensive lineman late in the fourth quarter.
However, Joey B was smooth under pressure. When the coaching staff allowed him to throw the football further than ten yards and when every other play wasn’t set in stone as a run up the middle — down the stretch, during the comeback drives, Burrow was loose and sizzling.
His patience wasn’t great, his throws came off nervous fingertips, the Chargers’ Bosa brother was practically his cuddle buddy all afternoon, but when the offense needed big yardage passing, Burrow delivered. I liked what I saw from QB1 in week one, and the rest of the game is just white noise if that’s the takeaway.
Yes, blowing all three timeouts before the midway point of the fourth quarter is egregious mismanagement. So is opting to kick a field goal from the 13 yard line with seven seconds left. Joe just marched down the field with a flurry of quick, tight-windowed throws and is more than capable of getting a pass off in seven seconds without a huge risking of expiring the clock. Go for it!
Nobody was surprised they didn’t. Eddie Gran is an offensive pioneer compared to the Bengals play-callers. I know Joe Mixon just received his (concerningly) big payday, but why is Cincinnati force-feeding him 19 times when Burrow proved last fall he’s best passing on all three downs with five elite playmakers spread between the stripes? You know, an awfully similar style to the breakneck playbook from late in this fourth quarter.
Probably a trust/rookie thing and not wanting to toss Burrow into the fire over-tasked in week one, which makes sense. But Burrow calmed down and made his best plays when the Bengals flirted with the spread Sunday afternoon. Otherwise, the offense was rhythm-less, running the ball for a pedestrian 4.4 average while Burrow was rarely able to take the deep shots that made him the No. 1 pick. I was not a fan of the strategy in week one, but we’ll how it evolves.
Other Rookies and Newcomers
Burrow, we’ve covered. Second-round receiver Tee Higgins was virtually nonexistent. Of the three linebackers I heavily touted earlier in KSR’s NFL Predictions post, third-rounder Logan Wilson and fourth-rounder Akeem Davis-Gaither gave great efforts in their debuts, each totaling three solo tackles on the day while Davis-Gathier was notably active all over the field. The only other rookie worth mentioning is D-lineman Khalid Kareem, who had one stop in the first half.
The big prize of Bengals free agency was run-stuffing defensive tackle DJ Reader from Houston. Reader’s absorbent body and nimble footwork boosted the Bengals former last-in-the-league rush defense against a run-happy Chargers squad, until a particularly unnerving moment in the second half when Reader was mysteriously carted off the field. Luckily, he returned later in the game and was just dealing with some cramping…Although he was dearly missed as Los Angeles punched the ball right into the end zone with him down.
Elsewhere, former Raven linebacker Josh Bynes popped off the screen with a couple of athletic takedowns and an overall high-volume tackle day with eight and a sack; and secondary signees Vonn Bell and Mackensie Alexander were okay in their first game while offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo left his Bengal opener with an injury.