When the Seattle Seahawks defensive coaches go over the game tape of Cincinnati Bengals vs. Arizona Cardinals with players, the first play that they should show is Joe Burrow’s 10-yard scramble at the end of the third quarter. The second should be Burrow running in a literal circle to evade a rusher before completing a pass.
After that, the Seahawks’ defensive coaches should delete the files from the Bengals’ four games prior to the Week 5 win in front of the players. Burrow is once again mobile, agile, and hostile. He is back to playing like the quarterback who was considered one of the best in the NFL, and even with his early season struggles, the Bengals are firmly in the mix for a playoff spot.
In the AFC, only the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have been true disasters through five games. They are the only 1-4 teams in the conference. Every other team has a record of at least 2-3. That record has the Bengals, while near the bottom of the standings, only two games behind the AFC leaders, the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bengals only two wins this season are against the Los Angeles Rams and the Cardinals. However, in that Week 5 victory in Glendale, Ariz., Burrow finally looked like the player who pushed the previous two Super Bowl champions to the brink.
He completed 78.2 percent of his passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday. All three scores went to Ja’Marr Chase, who was spectacular with nearly 200 yards receiving, proving his theory correct that he is always f*cking open. Force-feeding one of the best wide receivers in the NFL is always a good strategy to get out of a funk, but Burrow was doing far more than just heaving the ball in Chase’s direction.
An injured calf had hampered Burrow since the beginning of training camp. From the moment that the Bengals took the field in Week 1, he played like a shell of himself. And in Week 2, he suffered a setback.
While Burrow is not going to blame the Bengals’ early-season woes entirely on his injury, he has admitted that it required a workaround. When speaking to the media last Wednesday, he said that the “quick twitch” part of his game had not been quite ready. That was a few days after the Bengals were blown out, 27-3, by the Tennessee Titans in Week 4.
In the modern NFL, movement in the pocket is necessary. Defensive linemen are too big and too agile for quarterbacks to regularly take five-step dropbacks and depend solely on a quick release. Burrow is one of the best in the league at using his feet to help him make plays with his arm.
Against the Cardinals on Sunday, the twitch was twitching quickly. Even though Burrow was sacked three times and hit on four other plays, his calf was well enough for him to get where he wanted to be on the field. He was no longer lumbering in the pocket. Burrow was able to evade rushers, move the pocket, and change his launch angles. He said after the win that sidestepping a defender in the first quarter was huge for his confidence.
“It’s something that I haven’t been able to do for the last couple of weeks,” Burrow said to the media. “So when your quarterback can’t do that, can’t steal first downs, can’t extend the play a little bit to find some guys, it’s tough to move the ball.”
If all of Burrow’s physical tools stay available to him for the rest of the season, expect the Bengals to end this season the way that they have the last three. They will likely again be competing for a championship because their quarterback can make as many big plays as anyone.
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