Last year at LSU, Joe Burrow literally made it look easy, scoring a ton of points, leading his team to the national championship and capturing the Heisman Trophy. He also became the #1 choice in the NFL Draft. When the team that picked you won only two games, you’re not going to have the luxury of sitting on the bench and learning your craft. So Burrow is being thrown into the fire as his team, the Cincinnati Bengals, plays host to the Los Angeles Chargers in a game that begins at 4:05 PM ET on Sunday.
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The magic Burrow produced came with rhe assistance – indeed, the orchestration – of Joe Brady, who at the age of 30 has been rewarded with the offensive coordinator’s job with the Carolina Panthers. Burrow’s primary mentor with the Bengals is Zac Taylor, who came from the L.A. Rams, where he was a coordinator and quarterback coach and became the youngest head coach in the NFL when he was hired in Cincinnati.
Taylor tried to teach an old dog new tricks last season, but Andy Dalton was pretty much past his “sell by” date with the Bengals, and his ratio of 16 touchdowns to 14 interceptions reflected that. Burrow is going to take his lumps, but he doesn’t begin without weapons around him. AJ Green, when healthy, is one of the best receivers in the business. Tyler Boyd topped the 1000-yard mark last year. Tee Higgins (Clemson) was the second-round draft pick. John Ross hasn’t yet filled his potential, but he can fly. Joe Mixon was a 1000-yard running back. And Giovanni Bernard can catch passes out of the backfield.
The Bengals begin the “Burrow Era” as a home underdog, according to the pro football odds at BetAnySports:
Los Angeles Chargers -3 (+100)
Cincinnati Bengals +3 (-120)
Over 41.5 points -110
Under 41.5 points -110
Much of the difficulty the Bengals are going to face this season will come on the defensive side. Cincinnati allowed 149 rushing yards per game last year, and that was the most in the NFL. Geno Atkins will miss this opener, and that doesn’t help matters. With the departure of Philip Rivers, we have a sneaking suspicion that head coach Anthony Lynn will gravitate more and more toward what he wants to do, which is to pound the ball on the ground. He has confidence in Austin Ekeler as a guy who can carry the mail. This may work on Sunday.
Eventually you’re going to see Justin Herbert, the first-round pick, playing quarterback for the Chargers. But not quite yet. He’s not ready like Burrow is; however, they’re okay for the time being with Tyrod Taylor. He won’t be sensational, but he’s not far removed from leading a team (Buffalo in 2017) into the playoffs. The acquisition of Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga were a key on the offensive line.
It will be interesting to watch this Charger defense work on Sunday. They have all the ability in the world to put Burrow under pressure, with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram the well-known “bookend” pass rushers. And there’s nothing to bellyache over, since they’ve both signed new deals. And you’d have to go a long way to find a better secondary; All-Pro safety Derwin James is back from injury, and Chris Harris, a Pro Bowl corner, was brought over from Denver.
The pass rush and the secondary won’t provide a friendly welcome for Burrow here, and ultimately that makes the difference. Sure, it looks like a poor fundamental move to lay points on the road with a team that was 5-11 last year. But in this case we think it’s appropriate. CHARGERS
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