CINCINNATI – The pre-season favorite team of the AFC North, Cincinnati, is having one of the worst seasons imaginable. The team is currently 5-5. The Bengals are having a rough time against their division opponents. The 24-3 loss in week one is nothing in comparison to losing starting quarterback Joe Burrow to another serious injury. Burrow suffered a season-ending torn ligament in his hand.
It’s important to remember this isn’t Burrow’s first injury. Before he could even take a snap in the NCAA, Burrow broke a bone in his hand during his time at Ohio State University. He transferred to Louisiana State University and became a star virtually overnight. However, the injuries continue to plague him.
During Burrow’s rookie season, he tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). This ended his rookie NFL season in 2020. He also sprained his MCL in the 2022 Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams. In training camp 2023, Burrow suffered a strained calf. Then on Thursday Night Football against the Baltimore Ravens, Burrow suffered a torn ligament in his hand.
Hopefully, this is not a developing and alarming pattern of events that will continue. Perhaps this is the last of it. After all, the Bengals made a vital move in the off-season to prevent this scenario from ever happening again. The team signed pro-bowl left tackle Orlando Brown to protect Joe Burrow’s blind side. The team also signed Guard Cody Ford to a one-year deal.
Whether or not the blocking of the offensive line has anything to do with this injury is a moot point. The Bengals have to make sure to do the due diligence on making sure Burrow has adequate protection in the pocket to attempt passes at the right time and avoid big hits in the pocket. Burrow is constantly harassed and pressured in the pocket. If the Bengals want to keep the superstar Quarterback healthy, it’s time to make some tough decisions.
In all fairness, with an objective stance when looking at the injury history of Burrow, we have to question why this is happening. Is this at least partially the fault of the Bengals offensive lineman, who has come under a lot of scrutiny in the last few years? The Bengals defense is going up against three of NFL’s top-tier defenses 6 times a year. These AFC North defenses are perhaps at their best all around in the history of this division. Collectively, these three teams have never been this good defensively. One could easily make a case for talking about the perennial defenses of Baltimore and Pittsburgh as both teams typically have that. Adding Cleveland into the mix is the perfect storm of the AFC North. It was also the biggest challenge facing the Bengals and Burrow.
What will happen now? It’ll be interesting to see how durable Burrow is over the next few years. Part of the solution is the Bengals must continue to be proactive in drafting top prospects for offensive linemen in the NFL draft 2024 and signing two free agents. Although some NFL experts may quickly discuss veteran Right Tackle Trent Brown as an option, there is one option that is way better and won’t be a major cap hit at all. There is a can’t-miss prospect at Right Tackle that the Bengals should consider trading up for if necessary. Alabama Right Tackle J.C. Latham is a massive Right Tackle who can move quickly. His footwork is quick and his blocking technique is solid. Latham is a potential top-ten pick so the Bengals might need to give up some draft picks to have a chance to select him in 2024.
When the Bengals selected Wide Receiver Ja’Marr Chase in the 2021 NFL Draft, they didn’t forget about getting Burrow some much-needed offensive lineman. The team drafted Offensive Tackle Jackson Carmen out of Clemson in round two pick 46. The team also selected Offensive Tackle D’ante Smith out of East Carolina in round four pick 139. The Bengals also selected Georgia Center Trey Hill in round 6, pick 190.
Even so, the Bengals can’t miss the opportunity to draft a top-ten talent to play opposite Brown. The counter-argument to this is the fact that the Bengals have veteran Alex Cappa starting at Right Tackle. Whether Latham can start over with Cappa is another discussion. The Bengals would be right to at least give Cappa competition and challenge him. Latham has the physical tools and athleticism to at least give Cappa serious competition for the starting job.
Some may disagree with these points and think these viewpoints are a reach and irrelevant. However, what will happen if Burrow continues to endure more quarterback sacks and big hits? What will his durability look like in the 2024 season and beyond? Is it at least worth discussing? This is all about a concern in regards to Burrow’s health. The team made moves to address the offensive line but these moves weren’t enough. The Bengals should make a few more moves to solidify the offensive line and keep Burrow healthy. They already invested in him by giving him top-tier receivers like Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. The Bengals also have one of the most prolific, agile running backs in the NFL in Joe Mixon. If Cincinnati can make another move or two to address the offensive line, then Burrow’s career can be a 12-year career or longer. That should be the goal along with a Super Bowl win at some point.
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