The Cincinnati Bengals have the least-productive offense in the NFL.
It’s a stunning revelation through the first four weeks of the season that can be attributed in significant part to Joe Burrow’s lingering calf injury. The Bengals quarterback said on Wednesday that he’s optimistic about Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals and that he’s feeling better than he has all season following Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s the best I’ve felt after a game, so I’m optimistic,” Burrow told reporters.
He attributed that assessment to his improved mobility when asked to clarify what felt better.
Burrow said after a Week 3 win over the Los Angeles Rams that the injury has impacted his mechanics and his ability to get velocity on this throws. That’s played out on the field in the form of a passing offense that’s limited almost entirely to short, quick passes that don’t travel more than 10 yards through the air. The trademark downfield plays that made the Bengals offense one of the league’s best the last two seasons are largely gone, and All-Pro receiver Ja’Marr Chase has seen his upside dramatically capped.
The result is a passing offense that ranks 31st in the league with 182 yards per game and an overall offense that ranks dead last (252 yards per game). Burrow’s averaging 4.8 yards per attempt, well below his career rate of 7.4 yards per attempt. He posted a dismal 2.6 yards per attempt in Sunday’s 27-3 loss to the Titans. It was the second time in four games the Bengals failed to produce a touchdown after 24-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 1.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks,” Burrow said Wednesday. “It’s been a tough couple of weeks, that’s for sure. We’re gonna get through it. We’re gonna get through it. We’ve got tough resilient guys in there. We’ve got mentally tough guys that have been through a lot.”
Burrow injured his calf in training camp and didn’t participate in the preseason. The Bengals faced a choice in Week 1 of whether to start Burrow or sit him to let him heal. Chase expressed his desire in August for Burrow to sit until he was healthy.
“I 100% mean that,” Chase said before Week 1. “I just want him to be 100% healthy to play. I don’t want him rushing nothing. I don’t want people in his ear telling him to play a certain time. I just want him to be healthy. That’s not me telling him to play this certain game.”
The Bengals instead played Burrow and have a 1-3 start to show for it. Burrow, meanwhile has shown little sign of progression from his injury as Cincinnati’s offense has sputtered. With each loss comes more pressure to pick up a win to avoid falling out of the playoff race. That equates to more pressure to play Burrow on his injured calf.
It’s a difficult spot for Burrow and the Bengals as long as he remains hobbled. After playing the Cardinals on Sunday, they face the Seahawks in Week 6. Then, mercifully, comes a bye week. The Bengals can ill afford a loss in either of the upcoming games.
Sitting Burrow at this point doesn’t appear to be an option. The Bengals are left to hope that his optimism plays out on the field.