The Cincinnati Bengals have reached the Super Bowl for the first time since the late 1980s, thanks in large part to a gutsy run from quarterback Joe Burrow. With the NFL’s biggest game just around the corner, let’s look back at how the NFL’s newest star has played during his sophomore season.
Joe Burrow went from promising player to superstar this season
After tearing his ACL as a rookie, Burrow had a solid sophomore campaign, throwing for 4,611 yards, 34 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. His performance helped the Bengals to a 10-7 record and earned them an AFC North title for the first time since 2015.
Once the playoffs arrived, Burrow didn’t shrink from the spotlight. During the Bengals’ Super Bowl run, Burrow has totaled 842 yards passing yards, 4 touchdowns, and a pair of interceptions. He hasn’t been perfect, but Cincinnati wouldn’t have made it this far without him.
Burrow fared well via advanced metrics this season
Burrow’s box score statistics have been relatively impressive this season, but his advanced metrics are even better.
As evidence, let’s turn to the Offensive Value Metric (OVM). The OVM is a grading system created by the (Bx) Movement to measure how much of a player’s statistical production they were actually responsible for.
During the regular season, Burrow earned the highest OVM grade of any quarterback at 31.27. His grade suggests that, in a league where the best teams often have the best quarterbacks, Burrow was the most impactful signal-caller in the NFL.
Burrow’s weekly grades have dropped in the playoffs
While Burrow’s OVM performance ranked at the top of the league overall, looking at his weekly grades provides some reasons for concern heading into the Super Bowl.
In the chart below, you can see Burrow’s grade from every week of the Cincinnati Bengals’ season so far, marked by the black dots. For comparison, the yellow line represents the average OVM grade for quarterbacks during the regular season.
For the vast majority of the season, Burrow’s grades were above the league average, often significantly so. However, his postseason performance has seen its ups and downs. He was excellent during Wild Card Weekend but fell off in the subsequent rounds.
He earned his worst grade of the season (15.43) in the Divisional Round, then his third-worst (22.96) in the Conference Championship, although that grade is still above the league average.
If Burrow returns to his regular-season level of play, there won’t be a problem. But if he plays in the Super Bowl as he did in the Divisional Round, the Bengals could be in real trouble.
Examining the advanced metrics behind Burrow’s grades
To understand Burrow’s performances, let’s look at the advanced metrics behind his grades. The chart below shows his performance in the following statistics, along with where he ranked compared to the rest of the NFL:
- His completion percentage
- The difference between his completion percentages and the NFL’s projections
- The frequency with which he threw into tight windows (Aggressiveness)
- How far he threw the ball past the line of scrimmage on his pass attempts (IAY)
- How far he threw the ball past the line of scrimmage on his completions (CAY)
|IAY||CAY||Agg.||Comp. %||Comp. % +/-|
|Season||8.3 (9th)||6.4 (7th)||19.2% (2nd)||70.4% (1st)||6% (1st)|
|Wild Card||8.8 (5th)||6.5 (4th)||8.8% (9th)||70.6% (5th)||8.9% (2nd)|
|Divisional||4.5 (8th)||3.9 (7th)||0% (8th)||75.7% (1st)||-0.6% (5th)|
|Conference||7.3 (2nd)||4.0 (4th)||23.7% (1st)||60.5% (3rd)||2.9% (2nd)|
Naturally, where Burrow ranked in the playoff rounds is skewed by the increasingly small number of players with which he is competing, but we can still draw some conclusions from this data.
During the regular season, Burrow ranked incredibly highly in every category. He pushed the ball downfield and into tight windows consistently, but still led the league in both completion statistics.
His statistics were relatively similar in the Wild Card Round. But in the Divisional Round, things changed. He threw extremely short passes, none of them into tight windows. That probably had something to do with being constantly harassed by a Tennessee Titans defense that sacked him 9 times.
In the Conference Round, Burrow followed up with the opposite problem. While the passes he attempted were more difficult than during the regular season, he didn’t complete them at the same level. However, his overall level of play was significantly higher.
Can Burrow play the hero one more time?
The Cincinnati Bengals have made it all the way to the Super Bowl despite Burrow playing below the standard he set during the regular season. The team Burrow struggled the most against — the Titans — got constant pressure on him. The Rams defense fields Aaron Donald, arguably the best interior defender of all time. And Los Angeles has a much better offense than Tennessee.
If the Bengals are going to win this game, they will need Burrow to be at his most heroic. Fortunately for them, he’s been doing that for most of the season. If he does it one more time, Cincinnati might end the season hoisting the Lombardy Trophy.