Just when the Cincinnati Bengals offense seemed to be figuring things out, another elite pass rusher derailed its rhythm in a Monday night loss at Cleveland.
Now, the Bengals face another Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end, as offensive coordinator Brian Callahan described Brian Burns, when the Carolina Panthers come to town. Cincinnati (4-4) hosts Carolina (2-6) on Sunday at Paycor Stadium, seeking to get back on track before the bye.
Cincinnati had put up its two best offensive performances in Weeks 6 and 7 but went scoreless through three quarters in Monday’s loss to the Browns, while Joe Burrow was sacked five times and the entire offense looked out of sorts.
“I just think that the consistency all the way around up front has been solid, but it needs to continue to stay on that track, and we can’t have the ups and downs where we play a good rush team and it looks totally different than it’s looked for the last couple of weeks,” Callahan said.
The Bengals struggled against some of the best pass rushers in the league so far: Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt, Dallas’ Micah Parsons and Cleveland’s Myles Garrett.
Burns has five sacks this season and totaled nine each of the past two seasons, but the Panthers have just 12 sacks as a team, and only the Raiders and Lions have fewer. Callahan said they still get good pressure on the quarterback, noting defensive tackle Derrick Brown also is playing at a high level, but the Bengals have to “lock them up” to give Burrow a chance.
Cincinnati’s rebuilt offensive line was supposed to make the team even better this year with all its weapons back at the skill positions. The chemistry of the group — with four new starters playing alongside left tackle Jonah Williams — has improved week-to-week, according to center Ted Karras, but the individual performances haven’t been consistently strong enough.
Karras said the offensive line takes a result like Monday’s personally, and he’s being a “demeanor hound” this week to make sure the team has the right mentality going into an important game Sunday to get back to a winning record. The Bengals could be without right tackle La’el Collins, who missed the last two days of practice because of illness and is listed as questionable.
“I think the success of the offense is predicated on how we perform and we take that very seriously,” Karras said. “Obviously, we didn’t want to go out there and perform like that on Monday Night Football. So yeah, we take it very personally. … Now we’ve got a new set of guys coming in, very dynamic as well, so it doesn’t stop. We’re gonna have to go out there and play our best.”
Burrow continues to place his trust in his line, he said, but noted the need for the offense as a whole to be more consistent from “game to game, series to series, quarter to quarter.” He’s still not panicking about a setback Monday.
The third-year quarterback has learned to deal with the ups and downs of the NFL, though he is hard on himself during those dips. Being able to bounce back from a bad performance is something he’s gotten pretty good at after not having those kinds of experiences during his final season at LSU.
“It’s part of the job and something that you adapt to,” Burrow said. “It’s tough at the beginning, but as you play more football and you have more experience under your belt, you learn how to handle it. Just like last week, we were the best offense in the league and now all of a sudden we stink and everyone thinks we’re gonna miss the playoffs and we’re gonna lose all these games.
“It’s such a roller coaster each week, and I think part of being quarterback is staying even keeled throughout the season, throughout games because everything is so up and down and you kinda need that voice and that level headed mindset on the team and that’s part of your job as quarterback.”
The Bengals struggled with consistency last year but in the second half of the season, they were finding ways to win games despite the offense not necessarily firing on all cylinders.
Burrow said if the team plays like its capable of every series, the Bengals “have all the potential in the world to win every single game,” but it’s all about execution and that’s not been good enough.
“Down the stretch that’s what we were so great at last year, just finding ways to win,” Burrow said. “It might not be pretty. We found ways. We’ve got to get back to that, those ugly tough divisional games, games on the road, where things might not be going great for you. You have to find ways to get wins in those games and this year we haven’t.”