The Bengals Failed Joe Burrow
In the wake of their loss in Super Bowl LVI, one thing was clear: the Cincinnati Bengals needed to invest all the resources they possessed in protecting Joe Burrow. After the Los Angeles Rams dominated the Bengals' weak excuse of an offensive line, the franchise's only mission during the offseason should have been finding elite blockers to protect its franchise quarterback. As we saw all season -- and especially on Sunday during the AFC Championship Game -- that didn't happen. The organization straight up failed Burrow.
The Bengals lost Super Bowl LVI 23-20. Burrow kept that in the game despite being sacked seven times, hit 11 times and pressured or hurried on nearly every drop back. Aaron Donald, Von Miller, Leonard Floyd and A'Shawn Robinson took over that game against a completely overmatched offensive line. That came after Burrow was sacked an NFL-high 51 times during the 2021 regular season and an additional 19 times (another NFL high) in the postseason. Things only slightly improved in 2022.
On Sunday, the Bengals were missing three starters from the offensive line -- tackles La'El Collins and Jonah Williams, and guard Alex Cappa. Given how the line played all season, even with those guys things wouldn't have been much better against the Chiefs.
The Bengals waited until the fourth round of last year's draft to pick an offensive lineman, selecting Cordell Volson with the 136th pick. In free agency they did sign three offensive linemen, but none of them were of the elite variety. That's what happens when you don't offer big contracts. In the end, the Bengals got what they paid for.
Cincinnati signed Collins but only gave him $5 million guaranteed in a three-year deal. He produced to that level, earning a grade of 57.9 from Pro Football Focus. That's awful. They similarly handed center Ted Karras $5 million in guarantees over three years and he finished with a grade of 62.6. Again, not good. Finally they gave Cappa $11 million guaranteed in a four-year, $35 million deal. He's the only Bengals lineman who graded out as above average, at 67.6. Still nowhere close to elite.
The rest of the line was just as bad. Williams once again proved he belongs on the right side. He earned a grade of 61.2, which combined with Collins' mark made Burrow's tackles the worst tandem in the NFL. Williams allowed 12 (!!!!) sacks by himself this season.
Volson started at left guard as a rookie and, well, he played like this rest of his teammates. He finished with a dismal PFF grade of 51.6. There's upside there and he can probably improve, but he currently looks like a guy who was picked in the fourth round trying to play an incredibly important position.
The rest of the team's reserves were just as bad. The only guy who played more than 30 snaps during the regular season was tackle Hakeem Adeniji and he earned a horrible grade of 54.1. And the other guys couldn't beat out the players underperforming in front of them.
Burrow was sacked 41 times during the regular season, sixth-worst in the NFL. In three postseason games he was sacked 10 times, including three times against the Chiefs on Sunday. When you factor in the amount of times he got hit, had to hurry throws or bailed on plays because he had no pocket, Burrow was essentially running for his life for the majority of the season. There wasn't a single clean game from the Bengals' offensive line this season. In 13 games (including the playoffs), the line surrendered two or more sacks. Seven times, Burrow was sacked three or more times. That's unacceptable.
The Bengals refused to spend big in free agency to protect Burrow, instead finding relative bargains and praying for upside. That didn't work. Perhaps more maddening, they passed on selecting upgrades during the draft.
The Bengals had following picks in the first three rounds: No. 31, No. 60, No. 95. They selected safety Daxton Hill, cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt and defensive tackle Zachary Carter with those selections. According to PFF, they were all below average as rookies. Hill (58.1), Taylor-Britt (56.1) and Carter (32.1) all graded out terribly in 2022. Obviously, they were rookies and they have plenty of time to improve. But the Bengals passed on immediate help and their biggest area of need.
Even if you just want to examine players taking in the third round or later, the Bengals passed on two tackles who were solid in 2022. The Seahawks took Abraham Lucas (PFF grade of 68.5) with the 72nd pick, the Colts selected tackle Bernhard Raimann (73.3) with the 77th pick and the Raiders nabbed guard Dylan Parham (PFWA All-Rookie team) with the 90th pick. Hell, the Bears found All-Rookie team tackle Braxton Jones in the fifth round. And those are just the guys who had standout seasons, plenty of others were solid as rookies.
As the Bengals now enter another offseason, they need to make massive changes to the offensive line. Collins and Williams are not the answer at tackle. Frankly, Williams has always profiled as a right tackle and might fit better there. They need to find a true left tackle. Then they should spend at least two of their first four picks on linemen, but frankly they should take the three best linemen available at each of their first three picks. Bolster the group that protects your most precious resource.
Joe Burrow is awesome. He's arguably the second-best quarterback in the NFL right now. He has outstanding weapons and a solid defense backing him. What he's missed for his entire career is an offensive line that rates as even league average. The kid has been pounded constantly since entering the league. If the Bengals want him to stay healthy and lead them to a Super Bowl it's time to get serious about protecting him.