To be clear, nobody is backtracking on Burrow getting that deal or his status as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. In fact, the confidence in Burrow is why the Bengals’ offensive struggles are so perplexing.
The Bengals are 4-for-4 when it comes to bad offensive performances this season. They looked bad again Sunday in an uncompetitive 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The Titans have a terrible pass defense, and the Bengals couldn't do anything against it. Cincinnati's offense has been broken all season and it's not getting any better.
The Bengals are in trouble. They're not dead at 1-3, but they also don't look like the type of team that can make a run.
It starts with questions about how to fix the offense. As with most things in the NFL, it's not just one thing that has derailed Cincinnati. Multiple factors are contributing to the mess.
The biggest problem is there are no explosive plays, which has been a foundation for the Bengals' offense. Burrow is not throwing deep. Burrow's average air yards on completed throws is a measly 3.3, according to Next Gen Stats, which is second-worst in the league ahead of only Carolina Panthers rookie Bryce Young. Only six regular NFL starters are below 5 yards, and Burrow is nowhere near 5. Only 6.6% of Burrow's passes have been 20 yards or more downfield, according to Pro Football Focus. Only Young and Sam Howell — two first-year starters — have lower percentages of deep throws this season. The past two seasons, 10.5% of Burrow's throws were deep. That has disappeared in the Bengals' offense. Burrow's average depth of target has sunk to 6.6 yards, the third-lowest in the league among starters. It was all the way down to 4.5 yards on Sunday. Everyone knows that's not Burrow's game.
A big reason for that is the offensive line, which has been bad. The Bengals started Sunday's game with a lot of quick throws, and it still didn't help. On Burrow's first 10 attempts he was hurried seven times. Cincinnati allowed three sacks on the day and that doesn't look bad, but the Titans were living in the Bengals' backfield and Burrow avoided several other sacks by getting rid of the ball right away. The Bengals simply could not block a Titans front that isn't even great rushing the quarterback.
Small sample being just part of a game but...the Bengals have a 22% pass block win rate today.
22% is a brutal number. Average this year is ~56%.
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) October 1, 2023
Then there's Burrow's calf injury, which he suffered in training camp. On a fourth-quarter sack, Titans defensive end Arden Key pushed left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who is not off to a great start this season, back into Burrow. A healthy Burrow probably would have easily escaped to his right. But Burrow isn't moving well and Key reached him for a sack. The Bengals aren't blocking well and when Burrow has to beat a free rusher to give himself and the receivers a little more time, he can't move well enough to do it. The Bengals had a lot of plays that were one-step drops designed to get the ball out right away, and it's fair to wonder if Burrow's injury is dictating Cincinnati's play-calling.
The few times the Bengals were able to throw downfield, the Titans covered it well. The longest receptions for Cincinnati on Sunday were a pair of 17-yard gains, and both came on short passes with some yards after catch.
So the coaches are probably calling too many short passes due to Burrow's limitations and the line's struggles. No matter the play call, the ball has to come out fast because the offensive line can't block. Burrow can't avoid the rush when has to. That means there are no deep passes in the offense. That makes the Bengals easier to defend. Ja'Marr Chase isn't wrong when he says he's "always f***ing open," but it doesn't matter when plays have no time to develop. One problem is leading to another, which leads to another.
The Bengals are stuck in a bad spiral. They can’t sit Burrow and expect to be in the playoff race when he’s finally healthy. They’ve dug themselves a big hole at 1-3. Their only hope is the offense suddenly figures it out. But we’ve been waiting on that for four weeks and it hasn’t happened.
Cincinnati was one of the top Super Bowl favorites before the season started. Nothing is decided four games into an NFL season, but the Bengals look like a better bet to miss the playoffs than reemerge as a Super Bowl contender. The offense is broken, and it's easy to decipher some of the problems. It'll be a lot tougher to fix it all.
Here are the power rankings after Week 4 of the NFL season:
32. Chicago Bears (0-4, Last Week: 32)
During the Bears' team record 14-game losing streak, they have given up at least 25 points in every game. Matt Eberflus was a defensive coordinator before he was hired by the Bears to be their head coach. There's no good reason to keep Eberflus around anymore. And there's really no reason for general manager Ryan Poles to get a third season either.
31. Denver Broncos (1-3, LW: 31)
When the Broncos trailed 28-7, and their defense was making the Bears look like the 1989 49ers, they were ticketed for No. 32 and by a city block. Good on the Broncos for the comeback win but they still look like the second-worst team in the NFL.
30. Carolina Panthers (0-4, LW: 30)
The Panthers might have regret next April. They paid a lot to get Bryce Young. Included in that was their 2024 first-round draft pick, which could end up being first overall. No disrespect to Young, who should still end up as a very good player, but you wouldn't pick him over Caleb Williams. The Panthers were impatient and they might have buyer's remorse in a few months.
29. Las Vegas Raiders (1-3, LW: 29)
Josh McDaniels saying "playing quarterback in our league starts with taking care of the football" in regards to rookie Aidan O'Connell is not a good look. O'Connell threw one game-breaking interception late in the fourth quarter, which came on a slow-developing pick play that the Chargers played the right coverage on. It was on first-and-goal and the Raiders passed, putting a lot on the shoulders of their rookie quarterback. And it wasn't a great play call. O'Connell threw 39 times and Josh Jacobs, an All-Pro running back last season, ran only 17 times. It was a bad game script, but that's not exactly easing your quarterback into the game. There are things O'Connell can do better. It was his first start. McDaniels pointing out his quarterback needs to take care of the ball seems like he's trying to deflect from his own mistakes in the game.
28. New York Giants (1-3, LW: 26)
The Giants are really bad. It doesn't seem like they have any plan on offense. Even if they do, they don't have the playmakers to execute it. Brian Daboll had a very good rookie season as head coach, and it's too early to wonder if he's on the Matt Nagy path after winning NFL Coach of the Year his first season ... but that at least has to be creeping into Giants' fans minds.
27. Arizona Cardinals (1-3, LW: 28)
The worst thing for the Cardinals this season might be the Texans looking good. The Cardinals have the Texans' 2024 first-round pick and entering this season it looked like that could be as high as first overall. But the Texans are 2-2 and way better than expected. The Cardinals have been better than expected, too, despite a 1-3 record. So much for drafting Caleb Williams and/or Marvin Harrison Jr.
26. New York Jets (1-3, LW: 22)
Having Zach Wilson play well for a couple quarters is the biggest positive from Sunday night, and having him build on that is the best thing that can happen to the Jets. Not far behind is getting Breece Hall more involved. Dalvin Cook is averaging 2.5 yards per carry; he's not a good option now. Hall is doing OK but isn't being used much as he is eased back from a torn ACL. The Jets have to start expanding his role. It might save the offense.
25. New England Patriots (1-3, LW: 17)
Mac Jones wasn't technically benched for poor performance, but it's not like it would have been unjustified. Jones had some terrible turnovers. His pick 6 at the end of the first half, throwing all the way across the field, was inexcusable. It feels like Bill Belichick would probably make a quarterback change right now, but he doesn't have another reasonable option.
24. Minnesota Vikings (1-3, LW: 24)
Safety Harrison Smith is still fantastic. He had 14 tackles and three sacks on Sunday, including sacks on second-and-goal and then fourth-and-goal with the Panthers trailing 21-13 in the final two minutes. Even at age 34, he's a top safety in the NFL.
23. Atlanta Falcons (2-2, LW: 15)
The Falcons' leading receiver? It's Jonnu Smith, of course. His 179 yards are 45 more than anyone else. That's the best way to sum up why it's hard to get excited about Atlanta. The Patriots, who need offensive talent, gave Smith to the Falcons for a seventh-round draft pick in March. And now Smith is the centerpiece of Atlanta's passing offense. That's not going to take you very far.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2, LW: 14)
Kenny Pickett's knee injury reportedly could lead to him missing time, though it's not a season-ending injury. That's good news, but the bigger problem is Pickett looks poor to start the season. And an injury that costs him some time won't help his development.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (1-3, LW: 11)
The worst part about the Bengals struggling on offense is the line is a big culprit and they have tried hard to fix it. They spent money on it last season, and it was improved after a slow start, and then they signed Orlando Brown Jr. to a four-year, $64 million deal this past offseason. Now the line is back to being one of the worst in the NFL so far. That's disheartening.
20. Tennessee Titans (2-2, LW: 25)
Back on the Titans roller coaster. They've alternated miserable performances with good ones for the first four weeks of the season. The same goes for Ryan Tannehill. Week 5 brings an interesting game at the Colts, and maybe we'll start to figure out if the Titans are good or not.
19. Houston Texans (2-2, LW: 27)
Among the top 19 players in passing attempts before Monday night's game, 18 had thrown at least one interception. Of those 18, 16 had more than one interception. The only player without an interception and more than 123 attempts before Monday's game is a rookie, C.J. Stroud. That's impressive. Stroud is tied for third in the NFL in passing attempts, has had a severely injured offensive line in front of him, faced a fierce Steelers pass rush Sunday with standout left tackle Laremy Tunsil out of the lineup, and still has yet to throw an interception. Stroud looks like a home-run pick so far.
18. Indianapolis Colts (2-2, LW: 19)
Jonathan Taylor is expected back at practice this week and we'll see what that means for the Colts' offense, but in the meantime let's watch Anthony Richardson make a throw that most NFL quarterbacks couldn't even dream of ...
completely normal throw. nothing to see here. pic.twitter.com/RetLyEeESs
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) October 2, 2023
17. Los Angeles Rams (2-2, LW: 23)
Puka Nacua has 39 catches for 501 yards. That's not a pace to set rookie records, it's on pace to set the all-time single-season NFL records. The pace is about 166 catches for 2,129 yards. It seems reasonable to think Nacua's production will slow down when Cooper Kupp returns, but we also didn't predict Nacua having the best four-game start for any rookie receiver in NFL history either.
16. New Orleans Saints (2-2, LW: 13)
Alvin Kamara was back, and maybe it was a bad thing. He ended up with one of the weirdest lines you'll ever see: 14 targets, 13 catches, 33 yards. That's horrible. Derek Carr's shoulder injury probably led to him throwing short most of the game, but force-feeding Kamara low-value touches in the passing game could have been part of the plan, too. That has to change.
15. Green Bay Packers (2-2, LW: 12)
The Packers' biggest problem looks like their offensive line. The line's struggles made it almost impossible for the offense to function in a loss to the Lions. Elgton Jenkins' return at guard will help, but tackle David Bakhtiari won't be back soon, if he does at all. If the Packers can't fix the line, they might fade fast.
14. Los Angeles Chargers (2-2, LW: 18)
The Chargers have a bye, and it probably comes at a good time with Justin Herbert suffering a fractured finger on his non-throwing hand in Week 4. Not that a week off will heal a broken finger but it can't hurt to give it extra time.
13. Washington Commanders (2-2, LW: 16)
Ron Rivera had to go for two when Washington scored on the final play of regulation. One play from the 2-yard line for the win is a lot better as a road underdog taking its chances in overtime. Rivera kicked the extra point and the Commanders predictably lost in overtime. But overall, it was impressive for Washington to play that well against Philadelphia. A Thursday game at Chicago should lead to a 3-2 record, which would be fine for this point of the season.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2, LW: 21)
The Jaguars' offense still isn't clicking. The Jags didn't have a running back gain more than 7 yards on any attempt Sunday. Trevor Lawrence had a solid but unspectacular 207 yards. That's not great with the Bills' defense on deck, in another London game this weekend.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1, LW: 20)
It's hard to proclaim the Buccaneers as the best team in the NFC South. But they are 3-1, and their only loss came to Philadelphia. They're 2-0 on the road and that includes a huge victory over the Saints in their pocket. The question might not be if the Buccaneers are a good team, but who in the NFC South is better? If nothing else, it's a great start for Baker Mayfield and the rest of the team.
10. Cleveland Browns (2-2, LW: 8)
When the Browns traded Joshua Dobbs in late August, it made sense. Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked good in preseason. Cleveland got a fifth-round draft pick for Dobbs and a seventh-round pick. But since then, Dobbs has looked pretty good for Arizona and when DTR was pressed into a start Sunday, he struggled and the Browns lost a big divisional game to the Ravens. Maybe the Browns wouldn't have won with Dobbs at quarterback, but they might have regret sending him away for a late-round pick.
9. Seattle Seahawks (3-1, LW: 10)
Pete Carroll must love having rookie cornerback Devon Witherspoon. He can scheme up a lot of things with his versatile corner. Witherspoon turned out the Giants' lights on Monday night with a huge 97-yard interception return for a touchdown. Before that, Witherspoon became the first rookie to have multiple sacks in a game this season, ESPN said. Witherspoon was all over the place making plays. A game like Monday night will put him on the map for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
8. Baltimore Ravens (3-1, LW: 9)
Lamar Jackson put up a 142.5 passer rating and added two rushing touchdowns to his two passing touchdowns. He's still that dude. And it seems like he's getting more comfortable in a new offensive scheme. Baltimore is going to continue to improve as it gets healthier, too.
7. Detroit Lions (3-1, LW: 7)
Thursday night's result can get lost in the chaos of Sunday's games, but what the Lions did at the Packers was every bit as impressive as any team's win in Week 4, outside of perhaps the Bills. The most important part was how well the defense played. We all assumed the Lions would have a good offense. If their defense has improved as much as it appears early this season, the Lions aren't far behind the top few teams in the NFC.
6. Miami Dolphins (3-1, LW: 5)
The Dolphins weren't exposed or anything like that. They just weren't as great as the hype express would have led you to believe last week. Miami is still one of the best teams in football and a viable contender in the AFC East. The Dolphins and Bills don't meet each other again until Jan. 7, in the final week of the season. Now that might be a fun flex game for Sunday night to end the season.
5. Dallas Cowboys (3-1, LW: 6)
I can't figure out what happened to the Cowboys' defense in Week 3. In their three wins, they've allowed 13 points, an average of 213 yards (75 rushing yards per game) and have forced 10 turnovers. In the loss to Arizona, they allowed 28 points, 400 yards (including 222 yards on the ground) and didn't force a turnover. No idea what to make of that, but it'll be interesting to see the Cowboys' defense against the 49ers in Week 5.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (3-1, LW: 3)
Isiah Pacheco had a promising game. He had 115 yards on the ground and 43 receiving against a very good Jets defense. That's a great sign for a Chiefs offense that needs playmakers other than Travis Kelce. If the Chiefs can keep Pacheco going and have a young receiver emerge (I'd bet on rookie Rashee Rice), the Chiefs' offense could get back to a top-three form. They haven't been there yet this season.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (4-0, LW: 2)
A.J. Brown is up to 18 catches, 206 yards and two touchdowns in the two games since he had his mini-blowup on the sideline. The Eagles aren't where they want to be yet despite a 4-0 start, but it'll come. Their main pieces are as good as ever.
2. Buffalo Bills (3-1, LW: 4)
The Bills are really, really good and we lost track of that amid the Dolphins hoopla. The underrated strength of the team is the pass rush, which showed up in a big way on Sunday. And just think, Von Miller should return soon.
1. San Francisco 49ers (4-0, LW: 1)
On Sunday, Brock Purdy was 20-of-21 and also averaged 13.5 yards per attempt. He leads the NFL with an astounding 115.1 passer rating. Purdy hasn't just repeated what he did late last season, he has been much improved. It will be interesting to see what he does against Dallas.