The Cincinnati Bengals Offense is Just Starting to Heat Up

Joe Burrow leads the Bengals offense to a win in Week 6.

In Week 1 against hated rival the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals offense struggled. They finished with over 430 yards (currently a season-high), sure, but when quarterback Joe Burrow throws four interceptions, the offense HAD to move the ball to keep it close. In Week 2 against the Dallas Cowboys, the Bengals offense was putrid and pathetic. They managed just 254 yards, the fourth-worst mark by a Burrow-led Bengals offense.

All in all, this offense has been carried by a top-10 defense. The fact that their three losses came via buzzer-beater field goals despite offensive struggles is a miracle. Even then, it seems Head Coach Zak Taylor and company have begun to find their footing.

Despite Early Struggles, the Cincinnati Bengals Offense is Looking Good

The Offensive Line is Progressing

Through six games, Burrow has been sacked 21 times. It’s a well-known fact that Burrow hit the turf about 100 times last year, so seeing him continue to receive a pounding has Bengals fans bemoaning, “THIS is the rebuilt offensive line??”

Not all sacks are created equal.

According to PFF, these are the sacks allowed stats for each of the Bengals offensive linemen:

Jonah Williams: 5
Cordell Volson: 3
Ted Karras: 1
Alex Cappa: 2
La’el Collins: 2

Of course, Williams, being the lone holdover from 2021, has struggled this year. However, if the math is correct, those five account for 13 sacks. 13 sacks allowed in six games is a bit more palatable. PFF (non-premium) does not have stats for non-offensive linemen when it comes to charging sacks allowed. But who is to blame for the remaining eight sacks?

Burrow is certainly to blame for some sacks; he has a knack for holding onto the ball and trying to create plays. Additionally, in Week 6 alone, Mixon whiffed on at least two pass-blocking assignments that resulted in sacks. In one instance, he looked so lost that he ended up inadvertently blocking his own lineman.

Has the starting five been perfect? Absolutely not! Williams is dealing with a knee injury, Volson is still a late-round rookie from an FCS school, and Collins’ back injury has him looking ugly in a number of reps. Even then, they’ve been remarkably average across the board. Williams (55.9 overall PFF grade), Volson (50.4), Karras (59.4), Cappa (64.1), and Collins (53.3) are getting better with each passing game.

With games against Grady Jarrett, Myles Garrett, and Brian Burns coming up before the Week 10 bye, this unit has to hit its stride if this team wants to catch fire ala the 2021 Kansas City Chiefs as they also started off 2-3. Considering the first time the five of them played a snap together was in Week 1, they’ve finally started to gel.

What is Wrong with Joe Mixon

Heading into the year, it seemed like Mixon was going to be the best version of himself. He was fully healthy, the offensive line in front of him (seemingly) improved, and defenses had to sell out to stop Burrow and the three amigos.

Turns out, only one of those came to fruition, judging by the overwhelming amount of Cover 2/Tampa 2 and variations therein they’ve faced. Outside of that, claiming Mixon will have a record-breaking season has to be a bad episode of “Cold Takes Exposed” as well as another certain claim that the 2021 offensive line would be fine.

Thus far, Mixon has yet to achieve 100 yards on the ground. He’s only scored one rushing touchdown. In his six games, he averaged 3.04, 3.00, 2.00, 2.54, 5.57, and 5.63 yards per carry. For a cap hit of $11.4 Million (third-most, 5.38% of the total cap), that’s not getting it done. He’s a real possibility to be a cap casualty next summer if he continues to falter.

In terms of talent, Mixon is still a top running back in the league, but something has been off this year. One explanation is that he has been hiding an injury. Mixon has played through injury most of his career and only sat out when medically necessary. Another possibility is that his playstyle is not to the strength of his offensive line.

The only criticism of the new offensive linemen is that they focused on pass blocking alone and putting run blocking on the back burner. Even if he can be considered a top-five or top-ten biggest bust in Bengals draft history, Drew Sample’s strength is in run blocking. Losing him early has hurt especially when one considers how poorly Collins has run blocked.

All in all, Mixon is an efficient runner and perhaps the offense has figured it out. Against New Orleans, Cincinnati was 99% in shotgun and only ran the ball with Mixon eight times. By overloading the defense with pass plays, giving Mixon fewer opportunities may actually work in everyone’s favor.

Finally, there may be a very simple explanation: Mixon is tipping the play. As pointed out by a viral Reddit post in r/Bengals, Mixon has a clear tell when he lines up. This past week, it seems that it got the attention of all those involved because he mixed up his signals, thankfully. Regardless, Mixon is one of the best running backs to suit up in stripes, so getting him going can only help.

The Key to Being Cover 2 (et al) is Patience

It’s not new, it’s not groundbreaking, it’s not unexpected. Cover 2, and every variation there is, has been an effective deterrent employed against explosive offenses. Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, etc all see it. It was a given that the Bengals offense was going to face Cover 2 in 2022 to slow down Burrow, Chase, and the rest. Evidently, putting two safeties back has bamboozled this offense in a way that has never before been seen. The way this base defense has limited the Bengals offense has been the most frustrating thing thus far.

The way that Joe Burrow likes to play is in direct opposition of Cover 2; he loves to take shots and stretch the field with his ridiculously talented weapons. If he refuses to adapt and tries to force the issue, you get Week 1 all over again. Unfortunately for Burrow, he does not exactly have the arm strength to force balls into perfect windows down the field. While he has been an accurate quarterback, that’s not his game.

The best way to beat the Cover 2, etc., is to remain patient. Since running the ball hasn’t been effective as one would expect, taking what the defense gives and checking it down would do wonders. Tyler Boyd is a phenomenal slot threat and including him in the game plan opens up the entire offense. Tee Higgins has the size to fight any and all defenders. Hayden Hurst has shown to be well worth his contract already. And, of course, Chase is an elite talent. Even if a defense takes away his downfield threat with Cover 2, getting him in space and allowing him to work his YAC magic pays off almost weekly.

Cincinnati’s offense looks like it’s just starting to get off the ground, not unlike last year with the slow start. They are a couple of wind gusts and a healthy long-snapper away from 6-0, so it’s not all bad. Against the Falcons, Browns, and Panthers before the bye, the Bengals offense has plenty of opportunities to get some momentum heading into the more difficult stretch of the schedule.

Main Image:

Embed from Getty Images