The Bengals’ offense is flat again in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) warms up prior to a Week 2 NFL football game...
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) warms up prior to a Week 2 NFL football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. (Sam Greene/The Enquirer)(Sam Greene//Cincinnati Enquirer)
Published: Sep. 17, 2023 at 4:24 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) - Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow’s superpower is his ability to read the field.

He’s usually the best quarterback in the league at processing coverages, recognizing blitzes and keeping his eyes down the field. Those qualities led the Bengals to an AFC Championship in 2021 and to the AFC Championship Game last season.

What makes Burrow a special quarterback is that he always sees the defender down the field who’s trying to cut off his pass and come up with the interception. But at Paycor Stadium on Sunday, Burrow’s biggest strength looked like a major weakness.

Burrow’s interception inside the red zone early in the third quarter resulted in a 14-point swing in the Baltimore Ravens’ 27-24 win over the Bengals.

Down 10 points in the middle of the fourth quarter, Burrow made clutch throws on third and fourth down conversions and threw a touchdown to wide receiver Tee Higgins to make it a 3-point game. The Bengals’ defense forced 3rd and 2 with 1:40 remaining, but backup running back Gus Edwards ran the ball up the middle for a first down that clinched the Ravens win.

Burrow made a few promising throws down the stretch, but those were outweighed by how long it took for the Bengals’ offense to find any rhythm.

The Bengals dropped to 0-2 on the season, and the offense looks more broken than it did when they had the same record at this point last year.

When the Bengals were 0-2 in 2022, the issues were obvious on the Bengals’ offense. The Bengals had to redesign their run game, give Burrow more opportunities to get rid of the ball quickly and call more plays designed to beat Cover-2 defenses.

This year, Burrow just doesn’t look like himself after missing all of training camp with a calf injury. It’s a much worse situation for the Bengals to be going through.

Early in the third quarter, the Bengals had 2nd and 8 from the Ravens’ 17-yard line. Burrow was looking for Higgins, who had a double move and cut over the middle toward the end zone.

Burrow stared Higgins down the entire way, and he didn’t see backup Ravens safety Geno Stone looming over the middle of the field. Burrow threw the ball right to Stone for an interception near the goal line.

A touchdown on that play would have given the Bengals a 17-13 lead. Instead, a few plays after Stone’s pick, the Ravens were up 20-10. Burrow never throws interceptions like this, and the Bengals’ season depends on him getting his superpower back.

The start of the Bengals’ season was all about buying Burrow time.

Time for him to recover fully from a calf injury. Time for Burrow to make up for the snaps he missed in training camp. Time for Burrow, the best quarterback in the NFL at processing a defense on the field in the moment, to get that feel back in the pocket.

Burrow and the Bengals’ coaching staff are still putting the pieces together. And the Bengals’ defense also hasn’t done enough to pick up an offense that’s struggling.

The Bengals got virtually no pass rush against the Ravens. Baltimore was able to pound the ball right up the middle for first down runs. Jackson had plenty of space to scramble around the field, and he found easy completions over the middle.

The Bengals’ defense tried mixing in aggressive play calls to force a mistake-prone quarterback to turn the ball over. Jackson comfortably handled just about every look, and he placed a deep ball against a blitz to wide receiver Nelson Agholor for a touchdown that gave the Ravens a 27-17 lead in the fourth quarter.

On Sunday, the Ravens were missing their All-Pro corner and their star safety. They don’t have a single standout player on their defensive line. After the Browns’ outmatched the Bengals in Week 1 with their star pass rushers and their star corners, the Ravens presented a much more favorable matchup.

The Bengals more than failed to take advantage of it. Burrow only had 35 passing yards in the first half. He still looks limited moving around the pocket, and Burrow couldn’t step around a pass rusher to avoid a big sack in the fourth quarter. He checked the ball down too quickly on a few big plays on Sunday, and he still hasn’t completed a deep ball down the field this season.

This Bengals’ season is all about winning a Super Bowl, and the Bengals know more than anyone how difficult it is to win multiple playoff games on the road. They entered the year set on taking the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Now at 0-2, the Bengals’ chances at having the best record in the conference have plummeted.

They’ve opened the season with two straight losses in the division. The AFC North has four teams with a good shot at winning the division title this year, and the Bengals have already lost to the Browns and the Ravens.

Last week, Burrow said what makes you who you are is how you respond to bad games. The Bengals’ offense has had two bad games to start the season, and their path toward fulfilling their goals for the season keeps getting more difficult.

After the Bengals started last year with an 0-2 record, Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack said the message was “adapt or die.” Now, they’re back in the same position.

This story is from our media partner Cincinnati Enquirer.

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