Star wideout Ja’Marr Chase felt like a non-factor, catching five of nine targets for 39 yards. Tee Higgins had eight targets, catching none. Tyler Boyd had three targets, catching two for 10 yards. And new tight end Irv Smith Jr. had three catches for 17 yards.
While there is undoubtedly a lot of blame to go around, it sure looked like a game where the initial gameplan going into things didn’t help. That, combined with Burrow potentially being uncomfortable going over the middle when the defense permitted it.
That idea seems to get some confirmation from a quick glance at Chase’s targeted route tree throughout the game, courtesy of NFL next gen stats:
Fans might remember that last season, an emphasis was moving Chase around more to exploit matchups, especially in the middle of the field. So it was a little odd to see that with a quarterback coming off a minor injruy in the rain against a Myles Garrett-led pass-rush, most of his looks only went to the sidelines. This doesn’t mean he didn’t run more routes to the middle all game, but the ball didn’t go his way if/when he did.
Again, the offensive line wasn’t the greatest and Burrow didn’t look like himself. The Browns continue to be an unusually tough matchup for the Taylor era, as do season openers in general.
This will fix itself over time, as it feels safe to suggest Burrow and Co. will turn it around just like last year. But exiting the loss, Chase’s chart sticks out.