CINCINNATI — When the pocket collapsed around Joe Burrow in a Week 9 game against the Carolina Panthers, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback scanned the end zone for a receiver.
He rolled to the right and bought himself enough time to run back. Joe Mixon distract a quarterback and catch a 12-yard pass for a touchdown, one of Mixon’s five points in a 42–21 win.
The play emphasized an aspect of Burrow’s acting that had developed over the years. During his first three seasons, Burrow’s accurate timing and accuracy were instrumental in cementing his status as the Cincinnati franchise quarterback. But his improved out-of-pocket ability could be the key to getting the Bengals back into the playoffs and making another deep run there.
“If the game breaks down, it’s still alive with him,” Bengals coach Zach Taylor said. “And I think he’s like all the other great quarterbacks in this league where the game goes on forever and you have to defend for a long time when it breaks and the ball is still in his hands.”
Burrow and the Bengals (5-4) start the second half of their season Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 pm ET, CBS). It was at this point last year that Burrow and the Bengals’ offense reached its zenith, eventually helping Cincinnati to the top spot in the Super Bowl since the 1988 season. Burrow was a key player during this run and a number of his important games took place off offense.
In the first nine games of 2022, Burrow outperformed past seasons outside the tackle box, completing almost 61% of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Some of these points were key in winning games. Against the Panthers, Burrow told Mixon to plot a fade-out route into the end zone. When Mixon saw that Barrow was looking in his direction, the runner had one thought.
“I saw Joe throw the ball and I was like, ‘Dude, I better catch that,'” Mixon said after the game. “I caught this thing, tapped it with my foot, and it was just a great feeling. It was a great feeling for me, and knowing that Burrow trusts me as a recipient is also a great feeling.”
Bengali tight end Hayden Hurst emphasized the importance of being on the same page as quarterbacks when they struggle. Some guys like it when receivers bump into shallow trails.
Burrow is not one of them. As Burrow begins to climb, Hurst knows he is expected.
“Shove your ass deep,” Hurst said.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Barrow said he has a better idea of when he can take risks in extended play.
“Maybe we need a spark and something like that can create some momentum to attack, and then maybe we play really well, control the ball well and complete the pass quickly, which is not what is required of me in that time,” Burrow said. . “I understand better when I can and can’t do it.”
Last season, in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans, Burrow attempted a third-place playoff but instead was fired, pushing the Bengals out of field goal range. The third-year quarterback said the increase in reps this season helped him find that balance.
As with last season, it helps that Burrow is in better physical shape than at the beginning of the year. In 2021, Burrow just returned from a left anterior cruciate ligament and MCL tear he suffered as a rookie. This past July, Burrow underwent an emergency appendectomy to repair a ruptured appendix, an operation that caused him to lose an unknown amount of weight.
Joey Boz, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, said the failure had an impact on Burrow from the start.
“There was a bodyweight recovery process and then started to introduce him to some machine work and then some of the routine stuff that we’re used to,” Boese told ESPN in October. “It took quite a bit of time.
Back at full strength, Burrow leads the Bengals’ offense, which ranks fifth in the NFL in points per drive and fourth in efficiency in the red zone.
Burrow said Wednesday that the fact that there is skepticism about an offense that ranks so high in such key categories is a good sign for the quarterback and the division looking to jump ahead in the second half of the season.
“We are thrilled with the opportunities ahead of us,” Barrow said. “Fortunately, we’ve been to this place before and we came out on top. We have the experience to go out and do it.”