Inability to keep Joe Burrow upright is problem Bengals must fix quickly

CINCINNATI -- The longer Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens dragged on, the more Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow had to lift himself off the grass.

Burrow was hit 14 times and sacked seven times during the 27-3 loss in Baltimore. Each time he got up, one wondered how much more punishment the prized prospect would be able to take at the hands of Cincinnati's bruising AFC North rival.

It's hard to imagine it can continue at this rate. Through five games, Burrow leads the NFL in sacks. And after the most recent outing, it's clear it's on the entire team, including Burrow, to make sure that he finishes the season with his faculties intact.

"There was some time where we had some errors, and it wasn't just on linemen," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. "There were some free runners there that everyone needs to do their job."

Burrow never looked comfortable on a day when the offense failed to find any rhythm until the Bengals (1-3-1) were content with salvaging a late field goal. He completed 19 of 30 passes for 183 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.

Cincinnati knew the Ravens and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale were likely going to call for several exotic blitzes, but the Bengals failed to find an answer.

Baltimore (4-1) rushed a defensive back on 15 of Burrow's dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the most he has seen this season. The Ravens also made history when they became the first team to have five different defensive backs record one or more sacks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Their success mirrored that of Philadelphia's Jalen Mills, who had 1.5 sacks against Cincinnati during a Week 3 tie.

It's unclear if the breakdown in protection assignments falls on the quarterback or the offensive line. Regardless, Baltimore's strategy was effective against Burrow.

"He had a good feel for what was going on there in terms of the protections and things like that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Martindale's approach against Burrow.

Cincinnati's offensive line definitely could have played much better. The Bengals had a 38.5% pass block win rate (an ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen), which was tied for the third worst among the 24 teams that played through Sunday. It was easily Cincinnati's lowest rate of the season.

But on the occasions when the offensive line gave Burrow time to throw, he didn't help matters. According to NFL Next Gen, five of his seven sacks took longer than four seconds. Burrow's ability to extend plays, one of his best attributes, is also one of the primary reasons he has been hit and sacked so often this season.

"There are always plays to be had," Burrow said. "I consider myself a playmaker, and I didn't make any today that brought us down the field. I did hold the ball a little too long sometimes."

And a share of the blame falls on Taylor, the second-year Bengals coach and playcaller. Taylor accepted his role for some of the situations Burrow faced as Cincinnati spent most of the afternoon trying to dig out of a 17-0 deficit.

"It takes me as the playcaller, for certain, to make sure that we are put in better positions where we can manage that, take the pressure off," Taylor said. "I am certainly accountable for that. There is no doubt about it."

As Burrow gains a better feel for Taylor's system and NFL defenses, there's a strong probability the number of quarterback hits decrease as he quickens his release time. But until that happens, there's plenty of blame to be shared by everyone on the offense as Cincinnati tries to find answers ahead of its Week 6 game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Fortunately for them, the Bengals have a quarterback who doesn't mind getting hit. And he doesn't have any issues with getting up when he gets knocked down.

"You just deal with it and come back and fight every play, like I have been," Burrow said.