The Bengals entered Baltimore knowing that, above all, they had to protect quarterback Joe Burrow. It’s no secret that the Ravens love to blitz. And when they’re at their best, they are able to break down protection schemes to get free rushers in on the quarterback.
So head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan didn’t mess around. They predominantly used 6 and 7-man protections to try and ensure that Burrow didn’t have to throw hot with quick passes on play after play. They wanted to give him the time to target his playmakers (specifically Ja’Marr Chase) in 1-on-1 situations at the intermediate-to-deep levels as much as possible.
Things didn’t start off great, however. The Bengals had a couple of communication breakdowns/missed assignments on their first few drives:
At first, it looked like this might be another ugly Bengals offensive performance in a long line of bad performances against Baltimore. But Cincinnati started to get their protection sorted out as the game wore on, and that allowed Burrow to target Chase for some big plays.
Below is the first of several good examples. On this play, running back Samaje Perine crossed Joe Burrow’s face to pick up what would have been a free rusher. You can see that Burrow barely even reacted, knowing that the blitzer would be picked up. He then delivered a back-shoulder strike to Chase for 13 yards:
Two plays later, the Bengals kept 7 men in to protect against a 6-man rush. They had their assignments sorted out cleanly – 5 offensive linemen and tight end C.J. Uzomah to handle the 6 potential pass rushers on the line of scrimmage, and Perine in the backfield scanning inside-to-out from safety Chuck Clark (#36) to the slot DB off screen:
Burrow had a clean pocket and was again able to find Chase in 1-on-1 coverage for a big gain. Below is the sideline view, where you can see the great route run by Chase:
On Burrow’s 82-yard touchdown pass to Chase later in the game, the Ravens brought a 4-man blitz with a stunt in the middle. The Bengals handled it beautifully:
On a 3rd down later in the 3rd quarter, the Ravens again brought 6 and did so out of another double-A gap blitz look. Cincy had tight end C.J. Uzomah (#87) creep up toward the line of scrimmage to be able to handle one of the A-gap blitzers away from Burrow:
Burrow had to navigate the rush a little bit before connecting with Tee Higgins for 11 yards, but he did so out of another mostly clean pocket against a Ravens blitz:
Even when the Ravens didn’t blitz, like on this next play, the Bengals kept 7 in to protect and ensure a clean pocket. Burrow connected with Chase for 27 yards here:
You can see from these plays that there was very little confusion throughout the Bengals offensive line for most of the game. They accurately sorted out Baltimore’s blitz schemes, and the end result was that the Bengals were able to run their offense on their terms. They could attack downfield instead of having to live repeatedly with hot throws dictated by the defense.
Joe Burrow currently ranks 2nd in the NFL with a 138.5 QB rating against the blitz, according to Pro Football Reference. You could see why against the Ravens on Sunday. Burrow showed a great understanding of Baltimore’s pressure schemes and when the protection could or couldn’t account for them. There was no panic to his game, and that allowed him to take advantage of 1-on-1’s all afternoon.
Speaking of 1-on-1’s, Ja’Marr Chase wore out Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, catching 8 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. He now ranks 2nd in the NFL with 754 yards on the season. Not bad for a rookie.
The combination of Burrow and Chase has been fun to watch all season, and it has the Bengals at the top of a very competitive AFC North. If the O-line can keep Burrow upright and give him the time he needs to keep finding his various playmakers downfield, the Bengals might still find themselves at the top of the division at season’s end.