CINCINNATI — The Bengals are enter the 2021 season with plenty to prove. From Joe Burrow to Zac Taylor, there are questions about this organization at every level.
Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr recently asked a crucial question about all 32 NFL teams. For the Bengals, he referred to their best player and their biggest weakness.
"How does a brand new right side of the offensive line hold up, and how do the Bengals prevent a recurrence of last season on the injury front?" Orr asked.
Both questions are fair. The Bengals' offensive line needs to be better if Burrow is going to not only stay healthy, but have a successful second season in the NFL.
Cincinnati's offense is loaded with weapons. A trio of Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd should scare opposing defensive backs. Joe Mixon has the talent to become one of the best running backs in the league. No one doubts Burrow's potential.
The concern is the Bengals' offensive line. Is Riley Reiff and Jackson Carman enough to change the trajectory of a poor O-line?
"Cohesion often takes awhile for units that don’t have prior experience working together, and in this case, Cincinnati is asking veteran Riley Reiff to anchor the right side and Jackson Carman, a second-round pick who was primarily a left tackle in college, to play inside Reiff," Orr wrote. "The bigger question, to me, is: How do you take what you learned from a season ago and apply it to a scheme that will better insulate Joe Burrow? Carman’s transition to guard will not be flawless but it should not be as worrisome. Carman played in a Clemson offense that had a similar zone/gap split on runs and should be comfortable making the blocks."
The Bengals did name Frank Pollack their new offensive line coach and run game coordinator in January. No one was happier than Mixon, who formed a special bond with Pollack in 2018.
Orr believes the key to keeping Burrow upright and helping a revamped offensive line is turning to Mixon and relying on the run more than they did last season.
"The Bengals’ total EPA per rush was -0.123, according to NFLFastR data. But according to Sports Info Solutions, Cincinnati was actually fourth in the NFL in EPA per rush on carries out of a zone blocking scheme. They were dead last in EPA per rush when utilizing a gap blocking scheme, which could have skewed the average," Orr wrote. "Sports Info Solutions also notes, based on their machine learning data that has predicted MLB player injuries successfully, Burrow is one of the top quarterbacks on their potential injury risk assessment rankings of 2021. So, what could help mask a developing offensive line, propel an offense forward and keep Burrow from free runners in the backfield? Perhaps a heavier focus on the zone aspects of their running game."
Zac Taylor will need to mix in more runs, especially early in the year. Getting Mixon going in the first few games—which hasn't happened over the past two years—should be a priority.
It would take pressure (both physically and mentally) off of Burrow and open up the offense.
Burrow threw in 61 times in his second NFL game against the Browns last season. That can't be the case in 2021 if the Bengals are going to take a step forward and surprise people.
Check out Orr's entire column here.
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