The whispers are growing louder, but Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor did his best to muzzle any suggestions the team should rest injured and struggling quarterback Joe Burrow until after their Week 7 bye.
“That’s a strange question,” Taylor said in response to the first one asked at his Monday news conference.
Will Joe Burrow Sit With Calf Injury?
Taylor said he feels as though Burrow is healthy enough to run the offense, despite the fact the Bengals have scored just three offensive touchdowns in four games and are the first team since the 2019 New York Jets to fail to score an offensive touchdown in the first half of the first four games.
Zac said Burrow is going to keep playing. They have to be better on third down. Lamented 0 for 5 on third down
— Jay Morrison (@ByJayMorrison) October 2, 2023
“We’ve just got to do a better job of finding a better rhythm early,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot of things you can point to. We were 0 for 5 on third down [in the first half]. Our first and second efficiency was really good to start the game. It’s just when you are 0 and 5 on third down in the first half, you’re not taking any pressure off the defense.”
“It was 3-3 halfway through the second quarter, and we have to do something offensively by converting those third downs and turning them into points to where take pressure off the defense so the other team can’t run the ball as much as they do,” Taylor continued. “That’s really the easiest starting point for us.”
Burrow balked at the idea of coming out of the game early during his postgame press conference following the 27-3 loss. So, it doesn’t take much imagination to predict what his reaction would be to not starting.
Taylor acknowledged there are limitations but said the coaches and players are capable of figuring it out and adjusting to how defenses are playing them while armed with the knowledge they are facing a compromised quarterback.
“I think every week it’s going to continue to improve that way,” he said. “We just have to be better on the things that we can control. On that first possession, if we could have turned that into seven points, maybe the start of the game is different. We had a great drive, great efficiency.
“I really felt good about the second drive, too. They got us on a 3rd-and-7 call, fell off into the throwing window, and got a sack. They zeroed us on the third drive on third down. It was a good call by them. Those three drives, not being able to get more than three points, is what hurt us. It put a lot of pressure on our defense.”
You see this comin' at ya wyd?
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) October 1, 2023
The other variable in play is that Burrow’s backup, Jake Browning, has three career NFL snaps, all of which came in garbage time at the end of the Week 1 blowout loss at Cleveland.
The team’s fortunes are hitched to Burrow for however long is he able to play.
How he plays is not factoring into their decision.
Burrow entered the season as the most accurate passer in NFL history (min. 1,500 attempts) at 68.2%.
Through four games this season, Burrow ranks 32nd of 34 qualifying quarterbacks at 57.65%, dropping him to third on the all-time list.
As for the third downs Taylor lamented, the Bengals are 6 of 28 (21.4%) in the first half this season. Only the Bears are worse, and barely (21.1%).
Last year, the Bengals were the second-best offense in the league on third down, converting 51% of the time. Only the Bills were better (55.7%).
Fortunately for the Bengals, converting third downs and scoring touchdowns may not be getting exponentially harder than they already are after wide receiver Tee Higgins gave a positive update about his availability after fracturing a rib Sunday.
When you see that kind of fall-off in areas where Burrow usually excels, you don’t have to see winces, limps, or any other telltale signs of injuries to know he isn’t himself.
But the Bengals are crossing their fingers that he will feel and, therefore, play better in time to get things sorted out and bring them back to relevance in the playoff race.
Can he actually pull it off?
There is nothing strange about that question.
Listen to the PFN Bengals Podcast
Listen to the PFN Bengals Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Bengals Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms. Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Bengals Podcast on our NFL YouTube channel.