On Thursday, the Cincinnati Bengals suffered a major setback for the remainder of the season when star quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a torn ligament in his hand against the Baltimore Ravens. Burrow exited the game late in the second quarter and was seen on the sideline in serious pain and unable to grip a football at all. So the big question: where do the Bengals go from here?
Obviously, the largest concern of the Bengals is how to replace the face of the franchise at Joe Burrow. The immediate answer is backup quarterback Jake Browning, who showed in the second half of the Thursday Night game against the Ravens that he might be a serviceable game manager. That being said, he likely won’t be a be able to utilize the explosive playmakers of the Bengals.
The offense utilizing Jake Browning will probably exhibit a run-heavy approach with a combination of screens and shallow cross routes to simplify the offense for Jake Browning due to Browning spending most of the season running scout team for the Bengals defense.
The alternative strategy for the Bengals could be to look for a suitable veteran in free agency such as Cam Newton or Nick Foles. The problem with this strategy is that given how heavily the Bengals depend on Burrow’s ability to improvise behind a sub-par offensive line, this may actually lead to more problems than relying on the inexperienced Browning.
Throughout the seasons, the Bengals have struggled to maintain the same defensive intensity that has pushed the team to the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back seasons. In the previous two seasons, the Bengals have given up yards but have generally performed well both against the run as well as in the red zone. This season the team has struggled to hold opposing offenses to much on the ground and the biggest cause of this decline is apparent: tackling.
The secondary specifically has struggled: Plays such as Cam Taylor Britt lazily allowing Odell Beckham to snake around him for a big gain, defensive backs and linebackers taking poor pursuit angles on a big touchdown reception by Zay Flowers or simply missing tackles against running backs. When teams maintain long-term success, coaches have a tendency to omit basic fundamentals such as tackling from practices and switching the emphasis to an advanced playbook. It has become apparent that Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo needs to shift focus back to the fundamentals.
The Bengals over the past two seasons have performed well against the run due to the impressive gap-blocking performances of the defensive line including nose tackle D.J. Reader and defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. This season, Reader isn’t the same disrupter he has been, Hubbard has been injured and both defensive ends have not kept outside contain effectively.
Offensive Line Woes Continue
Another major issue for the Bengals has been the continued disappointing play by the offensive line even after the addition of left tackle Orlando Brown. While Orlando Brown has been a solid addition at left tackle, the biggest issue of the offensive line remains the inability to pick up stunts. It is unclear whether this is a coaching issue or a communication issue among the offensive line but on several plays against the Ravens, the entire defensive line reached the quarterback unblocked while the Bengals offensive line looked dazed and confused.
Left guard Cordell Volson specifically looks like he is struggling against these stunts, possibly because of the recent addition of Orlando Brown resulting in a slower communicative link. If the Bengals are to make a push in the remainder of the season with an alternative quarterback, consistency in the offensive line play needs to be established.