Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said it would be easier to fix the Bengals offense if each of the nine sacks it allowed over the first two games stemmed from a common issue.
In Sunday’s loss to the Chicago Bears, quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked four times and hit nine times. If all of those were a result of one player or one type of communication issue, Taylor could address it.
That isn’t the case.
“That’s what’s frustrating,” Taylor said. “If it was one piece, you could just solve and say, ‘Hey, we gotta get this guy fixed because he’s given up four sacks in two games.’ That would be easy.
"When it’s things that are easily correctable and it’s just one guy on each play, then that’s when we get frustrated.”
In the Bengals' 20-17 loss, Burrow went 19-for-30 for 207 yards with three interceptions and two touchdowns.
Here are Burrow’s five most interesting plays, with a focus on a few of the pass protection issues that stymied the Bengals offense:
- Second and 1 from the Bengals' 17-yard line; 28 seconds left in the second quarter. Burrow is sacked by defensive tackle Bilal Nichols for a 6-yard loss.
When the Bengals tried to take their biggest shot down the field of the first half, Burrow spun right into a Bears pass rusher.
With 24 seconds left in the first half, the Bengals ran another five wide receiver set. This time, four of the five receivers sprinted down the field as the Bengals searched for a big play. Burrow took a full three-step drop out of a shotgun formation, giving the play some time to develop.
Even though the Bears only rushed four defensive lineman, Nichols pushed Bengals left guard Quinton Spain straight back in the pocket. Burrow is usually effective in these situations, spinning out of the pocket to scramble and give the receivers a chance to improvise.
This time, Burrow didn’t have any time for improvisation. Because Spain and center Trey Hopkins lost their ground in the middle of the pocket, Burrow spun backward into a sack.
- First and 10 from the Bengals' 35-yard line; 11:22 left in the third quarter. Burrow throws an incomplete deep ball to Tee Higgins.
This was the deep ball the Bengals wish they could have had another chance at executing. Facing a five-man rush, Burrow had a perfectly clean pocket and completed a full drop back. Then, he stepped up in the pocket for a potential 45-yard deep ball to Higgins.
Instead of hitting Higgins in stride on Higgins’ right shoulder, Burrow threw the ball to his left shoulder. That gave Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson a chance to break up the pass.
This offseason, Burrow changed his mechanics to improve his velocity and his arm strength on the deep ball. This play showed there’s a razor-thin margin between completing the pass and watching it hit the ground. Burrow’s pass was a few feet to the left of where it should have been, but that was enough of a difference on a 45-yard throw.
- Second and 10 from the Bengals' 35-yard line; 12:42 left in the third quarter. Burrow is sacked by Khalil Mack for a 6-yard loss.
On Monday, as Taylor broke down the way the offense played against the Bears, he seemed most frustrated by this play. The Bengals' offensive line has been responsible for some of the Bengals sacks, but many of them had nothing to do with how well the Bengals blocked.
Taylor called a screen pass either to Ja’Marr Chase or Mike Thomas. The problem was both ran down the left side of the field. Meanwhile, the Bengals' offensive linemen pulled its protection to the left side of the field to block where Chase or Thomas was supposed to be. But they both ran down the field, so instead Burrow had two defensive linemen running straight at him. Burrow had no one to throw the ball to, so he took another sack.
- Second and 10 on the Bears 41-yard line; 9:55 left in the third quarter. Burrow is sacked by Roquan Smith for an 8-yard loss.
The two biggest hits Burrow took Sunday were a result of the same issue. Those mistakes happened once on each side of the Bengals' offensive line.
On the Bengals' first drive of the game, Burrow took his first sack when two Bears pass rushers crisscrossed against Spain and left tackle Jonah Williams. Then in the third quarter, two Bears pass rushers did the same thing on the right side of the Bengals' offensive line.
Smith ran free outside right tackle Riley Reiff to sack Burrow.
“We had some fundamental issues and some twist pick ups (responsibilities) that led us to (allowing) some sacks,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “Our guys are better than that. The standard is higher. We expect better and it wasn't.”
- Second and 6 from the Bengals 29-yard line; 10:19 left in the fourth quarter. Burrow is picked off by cornerback Jaylon Johnson.
The most impactful player on the field Sunday was Johnson. He had four pass deflections and an interception, and was most often the cornerback blanketing Higgins or Chase outside the numbers.
Johnson made the biggest play of the game with his interception of Burrow. It looked like Johnson was dropping back in zone coverage, and Burrow threw an out route to Higgins. Johnson identified the play quickly, jumped the route and picked it off.
“The route was good, he just made the decision that I’m going to jump this route and he did it,” Taylor said. “You don’t want to overreact to those things.”