Call it the reverse Samson.
Unlike the Biblical character Samson, who feared cutting his hair would sap him of his strength, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow visited his barber this week looking to reclaim some of his mojo after a career-worst performance in the 24-3 loss to the Browns on Sunday.
Joe Burrow Ready for Baltimore Ravens in Week 2
After several minutes of questions about his calf, rebounding from a bad game, and the Baltimore defense, the freshly coifed Burrow was asked how he knows when it’s time to get a haircut.
“When you have a game like that on Sunday,” he said in reference to going 14 of 31 for a career-low 82 yards.
A few minutes later, as the news conference was winding down, Bengals radio play-by-play announcer Dan Hoard asked Burrow if he was serious about the haircut being related to his performance or just joking.
“A little of both,” Burrow said before leaving the dais.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) September 13, 2023
If anyone was expecting to see a sullen, brooding Burrow after Sunday’s struggles instead of the guy with jokes, they might be new to these parts.
Whether it’s the persona he projects in front of cameras and microphones or the demeanor he displays in meeting rooms and walk-throughs with his teammates and coaches, Burrow rarely fluctuates.
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan was asked what Burrow is like after a bad game.
“The same as he is after a good one,” Callahan said. “That’s the name of the game in the NFL. There’s 17 games, and you’re gonna play well in some and not in others. Some defenses are tough matchups, and some games you play outstanding, and some games you struggle to score points.
“As long as you never ride the rollercoaster of emotional reactions to things and come in and fix things that need to be fixed — when you win, and you lose — you can move on and get ready for the next one.”
Burrow said he thinks that’s an accurate portrayal.
“I would like to think so,” he said. “Everybody has bad games. That’s going to happen, and what makes you who you are and hopefully makes you the player that you are is how you respond to games like that and how consistent can you be afterwards.”
It’s one thing to put forth that steady persona, but what about what happens on the inside after a game like Sunday’s?
“Yeah, you definitely don’t feel the same after a loss as you do after a win. I think that’s what mental toughness is is being able to maintain a steady emotional state when things maybe aren’t going great,” Burrow said.
Things haven’t been great for several weeks since Burrow suffered a calf strain in the second practice of training camp. He recovered in time to play in the season opener, but the calf still isn’t 100 percent.
Burrow continues to appear on the injury report, but he was a full participant in every practice last week and again today. How did Burrow’s calf check out after playing 52 snaps Sunday?
“It felt good,” he said. “Obviously a little sore, but felt good.”
The Browns, under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, blitzed Burrow on 41.2% of his dropbacks Sunday. That was the fourth-highest rate in the league in Week 1.
Last year the Browns’ two lowest blitz percentages came in their games against the Bengals — 15% in the Week 8 game in Cleveland and 11.4% in the Week 14 Cincinnati win at Paycor Stadium.
The book on Burrow is not to blitz him. But Schwartz always has been an aggressive defensive coordinator, and the Browns knew Burrow’s calf wasn’t 100 percent, so they came after him.
“We didn’t handle it well on Sunday,” Burrow said. “Obviously, we didn’t handle much well on Sunday. So you live, and you learn.”
Burrow said he’s still “feeling it out” when it comes to his comfort level with scrambling.
The Ravens went from ranking seventh in blitz percentage (38.3) under Wink Martindale in 2021 to 21st (21.8) last year in Mike Macdonald’s first season as defensive coordinator.
And Macdonald was even more conservative against Burrow, blitzing him 6.8% of the time in the regular-season finale and 7.9% in the Week 5 game at Baltimore.
Those were by far the Ravens’ two lowest blitz rates of the season. Then in the Wild Card game, Macdonald blitzed 16.2% of the time, meaning three of his four most conservative game plans were against Burrow and the Bengals.
That and the Ravens’ ability to tackle really well forced Burrow and the Bengals to claw for every yard and point they could get in the three meetings.
“Teams that play that softer style of defense — keep it in front, limit explosives and all that — you try to get guys in space underneath, and we did,” Callahan said.
“But we didn’t get anything really after the catch. They were pretty dynamic in how quickly they could get guys wrapped up and on the ground. And we didn’t break a lot of tackles. That’s what made it feel challenging. They did a nice job tackling in the open field. They really were pretty darn good at it.”
There are few unknowns when division rivals square off, but there is some mystery as to whether the Ravens will stick with what Macdonald did last year against the Bengals or if they’ll really come after Burrow to get an early gauge of the confidence and comfort levels with his calf.
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