By Sam Carroll @3samcarroll
On Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns competed in one of the most back and forth games I’ve seen for a long time. It was immensely entertaining, with both offences producing multiple explosive drives, especially in the second half. While each team had a few standout performers, most of the credit has to go to the two young quarterbacks.
Under centre for the Browns, Baker Mayfield recovered from an ugly start to finish with a stat line of 297 yards, five touchdowns and only one interception. It’s been a rocky few weeks for the Oklahoma product, but in this game he looked the real deal, throwing beautiful passes deep down the field. His game winning touchdown to Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds to go was a thing of beauty; an inch-perfect ball into tight coverage down the right hand sideline from 24 yards out.
As well as Mayfield played though, it was the rookie, Joe Burrow that really caught my eye. The Bengals would have been out of this game long before the clock hit triple zeros had Burrow not been playing. He looked incredible, throwing darts all over the field and finishing with three touchdown passes. He also broke the Bengals rookie record for passing yards in a single game with 406.
If he looks like this after only six games in the league, the mind boggles to imagine how good he could be when he gets a couple of years under his belt. To be able to stand behind that offensive line and look like an experienced veteran this early in his career is rare. In particular, the 11 yard scamper on 3rd and 11 got me off my feet. There was no hesitation to it. Just go. Get that first down at a pivotal moment with two minutes left of the game.
There will be a lot of competition for Offensive Rookie of the Year this season, specifically with Justin Herbert playing outstanding football for the Los Angeles Chargers. But so far for me, Burrow deserves the award. He has already justified the first overall pick billing, and has single handedly given hope to the fans at Paul Brown Stadium.
However, it’s not all rosy for the Bengals. At 1-5-1, they do still hold one of the leagues worst records, and their offensive line is arguably the worst in the league. It looked even worse on Sunday when second-year tackle, Jonah Williams was taken out of the game with an injury.
It’s been the story of the season for Zac Taylor’s team; Burrow has been great despite having no time to throw the ball. If Cincinnati aren’t careful, the hits may start to have a lasting impact on their Heisman Trophy winning signal caller. In the next three games alone they will have to face Ja’Deveon Clowney, TJ Watt, Bud Dupree, Cameron Hayward, Chase Young, Montez Sweat, and Daron Payne, all of whom will make light work of this pass protection.
Burrow reminds me a lot of Andrew Luck, the two are very similar. Both were first overall picks, both are smart, immensely talented, and not at all afraid to take risks. But, most concerningly, they both had atrocious offensive lines to start their career. Luck was able to produce despite this for seven years, but eventually the big hits got too much for him and the injuries piled up, forcing him into early retirement. The Bengals need to do whatever they can to fix this line before the same thing happens to their new superstar.