Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow spent his bye week self-scouting his performance in the first half of the season and got away from football to relax. For Burrow and the Bengals, the bye came at the perfect time.
Prior to the bye, Cincinnati dropped two games after starting the season 5-2. By losing to the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, the Bengals (5-4) went from being a No. 1 seed in the AFC at one point to now on the bubble to make the postseason.
The chase for the playoffs starts this weekend for the Bengals in Las Vegas (5-4) and it’s in the category of a must-win game for Cincinnati. If the Bengals want to be playing football in middle of January, it’s Burrow who will be at the forefront of making it happen. And while he knows it, he’s not putting any more stress on the upcoming game than he does any other week, it’s not how he’s wired.
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“Honestly, I don’t really think about the records of anybody,” Burrow said. “I’m at the point in my career where every single team is capable of beating anybody. If we don’t play well, we’re going to lose. That’s how it is every single week no matter the record of the opposing team.”
Through nine games, Burrow has completed 195 passes for 2,497 yards and 20 touchdowns. His passer rating is 102.6 and he’s thrown 11 interceptions. The second-year franchise quarterback will need to cut down on his interceptions to give his offense a chance to reach its full potential.
The Bengals should be able to move the ball on the Raiders on Sunday, specifically in the run game. Las Vegas ranks No. 27 in rushing yards per game and No. 12 against the pass. If Cincinnati’s pass protection is what it needs to be, the Bengals have too many weapons for the Raiders to try and stop. The biggest question will be, will they protect Burrow better than they did against the Browns? The Raiders’ pass-rushing duo of Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue has combined for 11 sacks so far this year.
"I have a ton of respect for their defensive ends 91 (Yannick Ngakoue) and 98 (Maxx Crosby) are tremendous players,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “They've got high motors. They finish plays. They give tackles a hard time, they give tight ends a tough time in the run game also. They make a lot of plays there.”
Before the Bengals can even think about playing postseason football, they’ll need to regain their identity on offense and defense. Offensively, that means more explosive plays and being more efficient in the red zone. Defensively, Cincinnati needs get its swagger back, starting up front in the way they affect Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr.
This game is important for several reasons including snapping a two-game losing skid and the mental aspect that comes with that. When it’s all said and done at the end of the year depending on how the season plays out, these two teams could end up fighting for a Wild Card spot and the winner of the head-to-head tiebreaker gets in.
The Bengals can put themselves in a good position if they can take care of business at Allegiant Stadium and much of that responsibility will fall on Burrow’s shoulders.
“It’s a very important game for us, just like every game is,” Burrow said. “We want to come out and win and to set the tone but it’s just as important as any other game.”