Bengals' Taylor: ‘More efficient’ running game will open up deep passing opportunies for Burrow

Joe Burrow said his focus this week is on trying to better connect with receivers down field, but Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor believes those opportunities will better present themselves if the running game gets going first.

According to, Burrow has attempted 12 passes of 20 yards or more through two games, completing just one of those deep shots – a 23-yard touchdown to now-injured tight end C.J. Uzomah.

Taylor said Burrow is “really close” to making some of those throws that so far have fallen incomplete, and noted those connections will improve as the rookie quarterback gets into a better rhythm with the receivers, especially guys like A.J. Green, whose reps were limited in training camp.

The bigger concern right now for the offense is establishing the run so those throws aren’t forced. The Bengals (0-2) seek to improve that area Sunday when they play the Philadelphia Eagles (0-2) on the road.

“It is … the chicken and the egg situation,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to be more efficient running the ball when we call the runs. And you can make excuses for reasons why those runs didn’t pop, but the bottom line is we got to get 11 guys on the same page to win their jobs to the best of their abilities so we can help our backs. I expect improvement there.”

Cincinnati has rushed for an average of 95 yards per game with a lot of those yards coming from Burrow himself. The Bengals want to make things easier for Burrow this week, after he threw 61 passes in a 35-30 loss to the Browns last Thursday.

And the offensive line is putting that challenge on its collective back, although Burrow says he will throw as many times as it takes to get a win.

“The way our games have gone, we haven’t always been in position to run the ball in some instances or in some instances we just weren’t very efficient at it,” center Trey Hopkins said. “We weren’t good enough. We weren’t playing up to our standard that we left saying we wanted to play at the second half of last year, so getting up to that and reaching those goals and getting Joe (Mixon) into space, Joe and Gio (Bernard), opening up holes and really being able to balance out this offense and compliment the passing game, take some pressure off the receivers, take some pressure off the quarterback just by being able to move the ball on the ground.”

The Bengals were slow to get the running game going last year, but the offensive line changed its approach and started moving bodies to open holes for Mixon to finish with 1,137 yards rushing. He had 320 yards through the first eight games when Cincinnati’s running game ranked as the worst in the league (it finished as the sixth best over the last half of the season).

Hopkins said the Bengals haven’t gotten away from what made them successful in the second half of 2019, but for whatever reason there has been a disconnect up front holding back the running game. The Eagles allow 135.0 rushing yards per game, which ranks their run defense 22nd in the league.

“Sometimes the game may not allow for that,” Hopkins said. “But when it does, we have to do our part, and that’s the part that hasn’t happened. ... That eliminates part of your play-call sheet. So that falls on the guys up front, us five up front, handling our business to make sure that those plays can be can get called and that we can have opportunity to pop those big runs with Joe and Gio.”

It hasn’t helped that the Bengals have used three different guys at right guard through two games with backup right tackle Fred Johnson stepping in as the starter Thursday to replace Xavier Su’a-Filo, who went on injured reserve. Billy Price had stepped into that spot during the opener when Su’a-Filo exited the game, but apparently has been dealing with some sort of ankle ailment of his own, although it didn’t show up on an injury report.

Taylor said Johnson will get another go Sunday in Philadelphia.

“He’s been fighting for spots since he’s been here,” Taylor said. “We look forward to getting Fred an actual day of practice at right guard. We had that short week. We never put on the pads or hit or anything, so he’s only going to get better with every single practice and every single game. So we’re going to give him another shot there.”

If all goes well in getting the running game going and providing better protection up front overall, Burrow can get back to doing what he did so well in college. While leading LSU to the national championship last year, Burrow completed 44 of 78 deep passes for 1,689 yards (1,276 air yards) and 22 touchdowns with just two interceptions.

Burrow has been sacked six times and facing loads of pressure, which Hopkins said hasn’t sat well with the offensive line either.

“There’s a lot of people watching Joe Burrow this year, and rightfully so -- he’s special,” Hopkins said. “And so the pressure isn’t from the outside, the pressure is from inside. We want to protect our guy, because we know he can do big things for us, he has done big things. He’s come in from day one and been a huge leader for us. He’s been a brother in the locker room. He’s been the guy, and he’s gonna continue to improve his game. He’s gonna lead to a lot of a lot of wins around here, and so the pressure is internally wanting to hold your guy up, keep him clean, and do your part for the team.”

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