The Chicago Bears held serve in the Windy City, blowing the Cincinnati Bengals' offense away in a 20-17 win. Joe Burrow was on his back for much of the day as Cincinnati continues lacking consistent protection for their franchise QB.
Cincinnati fell to 1-20-1 in their past 22 road games, but they are still locked into a three-way tie atop the AFC North at 1-1. Let's take a Three Down Look at the game as the Bengals turn their sights to their first divisional matchup of the year in a road date with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
First Down: Barely Burrow
Burrow confirmed what I feared watching the Bengals' offense whimper at Soldier Field: He had never thrown three interceptions in the same game.
He played the worst game of his professional career on Sunday, finishing 19-of-30 for 207 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Of the 25 qualified quarterbacks (32 play min.) to appear in week two so far, Burrow ranked 23rd in EPA/play (-0.095). The Bears' defense didn't make things easy on him. They sacked him four times and hit him nine more, which hampered Cincinnati's entire game plan.
Burrow was uncharacteristically inaccurate during key plays in the game, including a deep shot down the left sideline where he overthrew Ja'Marr Chase. He also threw behind Tee Higgins on a deep post in the middle of the field.
The play-calling also didn't help Burrow work out the kinks. This team is still searching for an identity in year three under Zac Taylor. The offense is Taylor's forte, but through two games it's the low note in this ballad.
Cincinnati has the fifth-worst total offensive EPA/play in the entire league through two weeks. They have not been efficient passing or running, ranking in the bottom third of EPA/play in both. If Burrow is healthy, then let him cook. Taylor is capping this offense's ceiling; while not staying efficient at the same time.
Burrow had the fifth-best Pro Football Focus passing grade (92.5) when targeting throws 10-19 yards downfield last season. That is how the Bengals quarterback finds a rhythm, attacking the middle of the field, stringing throws together, and gaining confidence. Through two games, Burrow has thrown just 10 intermediate targets on 57 attempts, including just four against Chicago.
Teams hire coaches to put talent in the best position to succeed. Cincinnati's offensive brass needs to start doing that again with their franchise signal-caller.
Second Down: Same Protection, Different Season
The Bengals aren't taken seriously in the NFL community because of the exact performance their offensive line has carried out through two weeks.
Burrow has been sacked nine times in two games, which is tied with Ryan Tannehill for the second-most in the NFL. The interior of the offensive line is a mess, pair that with a rough day on the edges, and you get Trey Hopkins (64.8 PFF grade) as the only lineman to earn a grade above 60.
Xavier Su'a-Filo was a disaster once again, posting the lowest grade on the line (41.7). His struggles have people wondering if Jackson Carman is going to get a shot at starting sooner rather than later?
The issues were far from exclusive to the offensive line as well. Two of the Bengals' three lowest graded pass blockers are Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. As the 7th highest-paid running back in the NFL on average, Mixon could lead the AFC in rushing once again under Frank Pollack, but it won't matter if he can't help protect Burrow.
The Bengals paid Mixon like a complete player at the running back position. He has to find the pass blocking chops soon in a definitive season for the Oklahoma product.
All in all, Mixon's job won't be the last line of defense for Burrow if this offensive line can achieve competence. The running back struggled in protection but created almost all of his rushing yards. Mixon amassed 60 of his 69 rushing yards after contact.
Maybe it's a speed bump against great front sevens to open the season, but this is the NFL and there are great pass rushers all over the place. Another daunting test awaits the protection group against Pittsburgh next week.
Third Down: Wily Wilson
The Bengals' bet on their offensive line looks like a miss two weeks into the season, but a key unknown on the other side of the ball is living up to expectations.
Logan Wilson is playing like the linebacker this team envisioned when they took him in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Wilson notched six tackles, two assists, and a game-changing interception.
The second-year player perfectly sells the blitz and then slinks back into the middle of the field for the easy interception. Wilson's hands and ability in coverage spark memories of Odell Thurman. He used those skills to earn the highest PFF grade of any Bengal on Sunday (84.1 grade).
His impact could've been even greater if he scooped and scored on the third-quarter strip-sack to give the Bengals a 10-7 advantage. Regardless, Wilson didn't miss a tackle on Sunday and gave up three catches for 10 total coverage yards allowed.
Sunday's performance was the prototypical day from a modern NFL linebacker. Years of subpar linebacker play looks to be turning around with Wilson leading the way.
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