Bengals' Joe Burrow struggles against another elite defense in loss to Steelers

Being a rookie starting quarterback in the NFL isn't easy, even if the Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Burrow makes it look that way sometimes.

Throughout the 2020 season, Burrow has dazzled and showed why he was this year's top overall draft pick.

But Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was not one of those times. Burrow had a very rookie-like performance in a 36-10 loss at Heinz Field.

Burrow struggled to find a rhythm on a blustery day in Pittsburgh. He was 21-of-40 passing for 213 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. And for the second time this season, Burrow struggled against an elite defense.

“You’re not going to be able to win football games against a team like the Steelers, as good as they are, when your quarterback plays like I did in the second half,” Burrow said.

Cincinnati needed a late field goal to avoid a shutout in a 27-3 loss at Baltimore on Oct. 11. While the offense was slightly better, Burrow still had a relatively subpar performance.

Coming into the Week 10 contest, Burrow ranked second in completion percentage over expectation among quarterbacks with 200 or more attempts, per NFL Next Gen. Against the Steelers, Burrow's completion percentage was 11% lower than expected.

Cincinnati's futility on third downs showed how ineffective the offense was against its AFC North rival. The Bengals were 0-for-13 on third downs, which makes winning a game at any level virtually impossible.

As humbling as the performance was for Burrow, it's to be expected for a rookie QB in the NFL, even someone who has flashed brilliance throughout the season. When he entered the NFL, Burrow knew he was likely going to take a fair share of lumps.

That was definitely the case on Sunday. The Bengals hope these kind of learning experiences can be beneficial in 2021 and beyond when they have a team that can compete for a playoff spot.

“You hear me talk and I’m not too down in the dumps because I know I’m not going to play like that very often,” Burrow said. “I might play like that hopefully never again. But maybe once a year.”

Eye-popping Next Gen Stat: Burrow really struggled when pressured by the Steelers. According to NFL Next Gen, Burrow was 1-of-11 passing for 20 yards when under duress. To put that in perspective, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 7 of 10 for 108 yards with one touchdown when he was pressured.

Biggest hole in the game plan: It wasn't necessarily a hole that could be fixed, but the Bengals could not stop the Steelers through the air. Roethlisberger was 27-of-46 passing for a season-high 333 yards and four touchdowns. The Bengals were relegated to three healthy cornerbacks after Mackensie Alexander was ruled out with a concussion. Between injuries and absences caused by COVID-19, the secondary was depleted. And even an old Big Ben who didn't practice all week was able to take advantage of that.

Silver lining: Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson continues to have a pretty decent season. While Lawson didn't register a sack, he was credited with six quarterback hurries, which is a good sign for a defense that desperately needs its defensive linemen to produce consistent pressure. It's unclear what Lawson's future will hold once his rookie contract expires at the end of this season. Either way, Lawson could earn a nice contract somewhere in 2021.