Joe Burrow must limit sacks for a chance at Super Bowl LVI

Joe Burrow must take fewer sacks. There are ways to fix that quickly, but the long-term fix must come during the offseason.

Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow was sacked a league-leading 51 times during the 2021 regular season. But after only being sacked twice against the Las Vegas Raiders, he was bludgeoned over the head by Jeffery Simmons and the rest of the Titans’ talented defensive line to the tune of 9 sacks for 68 yards. Although Tennessee was the top seed in the AFC, only Titans fans would argue they were actually the best team in the conference. Before next Sunday’s championship game, Burrow and Zac Taylor must address this issue.

Joe Burrow must limit sacks vs. Chiefs/Bills

No matter the opponent, things won’t get much easier for Burrow and the Bengals’ offensive line against Kansas City or Buffalo. Buffalo doesn’t have a Simmons on the interior, but they have a defensive front that rivals Tennessee’s. The Chiefs have Chris Jones, which is all I need to say to make Bengals fans shudder.

The offensive line is a massive issue for Cincinnati

There’s nothing groundbreaking in that statement. You could pluck a cricket fan from Poland that could watch his first football game ever, and they’d understand that the Bengals field a painstakingly underwhelming unit.

Hakeem Adeniji is a human being, a professional athlete, and he deserves our respect, especially as non-professional athletes. But he was thoroughly embarrassed by Simmons nearly every time No. 98 was in the vicinity. The Bengals drafted Jackson Carman in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The fact he’s only used as an extra lineman when the Bengals go heavy is not ideal.

Trey Hopkins didn’t fare much better against the Titans’ interior, nor is he a legitimate answer for Cincinnati at center for 2022. The Bengals could save $6 million on their 2022 cap if they cut him.

Right tackle Riley Reiff will be a free agent in the offseason. But he’s currently injured, so Isaiah Prince has been thrown to the wolves on the outside. It would take a minor miracle for the former sixth-round pick to be a legitimate option for 2022.

Burrow must take fewer sacks

This isn’t just an immediate reaction to what we saw against Tennessee. However, in the immediacy, Burrow must figure out a way to not take the bad sacks. On third-and-3 from the Tennessee 32-yard-line, the Titans showed six at the line of scrimmage. Two defenders were in the A-gap, and Cover 0 seemed imminent.

In that instance, Burrow has to expect heat. It was a tie ballgame. There had to either be a hot route or a sight adjustment for that situation, but there was none. Tennessee brought six, the Bengals were in empty protecting with just five, and Burrow lost 16 yards while the Bengals lost the ability for Evan McMVP (McPherson) to boot a ball through the uprights.

Part of what makes Burrow special is his ability to manipulate the pocket and create throwing hallways after making rushers miss. During college, his slight adjustments had folks likening him to Tony Romo and Tom Brady, two non-running QBs who were/are wizards in the pocket.

Another thing that makes Burrow special is his unwavering confidence. And that confidence goes beyond his own abilities. I genuinely believe he has confidence in his offensive line to protect him for 3.5 seconds every time he drops back. That is a gift because when they do, it allows him to carve up the intermediate and deep areas of the field.

But when it doesn’t…

That is the line he must learn to navigate. He must learn how to have that unwavering confidence while also occasionally getting rid of the ball faster or throwing the ball to the bleachers.

Zac Taylor must rethink the passing attack for next week

Neutering the downfield element of the Bengals offense won’t help them beat Buffalo or Kansas City. However, Zac Taylor must mix in more quick game concepts and screens if Burrow is to survive against either pass rush.

Play-action and bootlegs would be another way to help his quarterback survive. Play-action can alter a pass rusher’s plan because of the run threat, and boots change up their path.

The Chiefs are more susceptible to explosive passing plays, but they’re not as bad as one might think. They ranked 11th for the season in explosive pass play rate on defense.

Meanwhile, Buffalo held the top spot. With a weapon like Ja’Marr Chase at his disposal, there’s no reason why Taylor can’t get him the ball at the line a few times each game. He’s liable to break at least one for an explosive play.

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch.