More changes coming to Bengals offensive line?

Rookie QB Joe Burrow has been battered in first two games

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor wouldn’t rule out more changes to the offensive line, but one thing is for certain: The protection for rookie quarterback Joe Burrow has to be better.

Burrow has been hit 22 times through his first two NFL games, which is the most contact any quarterback other than Cam Newton has received through his first two games over the last 15 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

In Thursday’s 35-30 loss in Cleveland, the Browns sacked Burrow six times and recorded seven quarterback hits. The Bengals started Fred Johnson at right guard ahead of Billy Price in Xavier Su’a-Filo’s absence because of injury, and Johnson had one big whiff that led to a sack-fumble on the 1-yard line in the third quarter, but he wasn’t the only one struggling.

“Nothing’s off the table, that’s for certain,” Taylor said in his Friday press conference. “We don’t want to rush into any decisions and make sure we’re making the right decisions for the group. In some ways, we had a different right guard in there, we need some reps, some live reps. But again, we’ll make the best decisions for that group. We have a couple of extra days here.”

The Bengals could protect Burrow in other ways. He threw 61 passes on Thursday, but Taylor calculated that 41 of those were in two-minute situations at the end of the half or as the Bengals were trying to come back late in the game.

Taylor said it’s difficult to balance the need to protect his rookie quarterback and the importance of doing whatever it takes to win games. The play-calling late Thursday was in an effort to try to win the game.

“Again, we don’t want our quarterback taking shots,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to live in a dropback world. But we just felt like in those two moments, at the end of the first half and the last 10 minutes of the game, we threw the ball 41 times and scored 17 points. We’re going to do what we need to do to put us in a position to win.”

The Bengals now have the weekend off with a “mini bye” of sorts thanks to the Thursday night game, and they will use the rest to recover from two games in five days before playing at Philadelphia on Sept. 27.

The Bengals will have more than just the offensive line to sort out in terms of personnel for that game, as tight end C.J. Uzomah is out for the year with a torn Achilles tendon, according to Taylor. Uzomah, who Taylor called one of the hardest workers on the team, has been a steady player for the Bengals in recent years and was a factor Thursday before his injury, catching a 23-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and finishing with four receptions for 42 yards.

Drew Sample will start in Uzomah’s abence. Sample had seven catches for 45 yards Thursday.

“I’m gutted for him,” Sample said Friday. “It’s obviously a tough injury. We’re going to miss him not only in our room, but on the team. He’s one of our more vocal guys. He brings a lot of energy every day in practice, in meetings and especially in games. I know he’s disappointed. It’s really unfortunate and we’re definitely going to miss him. But I know he’s going to get after it with his rehab and I know he’s going to come back stronger. We’ve all got his back and we’re all praying for him for sure.”

On the other side of the ball, the Bengals are hoping to get reinforcements on the defensive line with the hope that tackles Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels could return next week. Both missed Thursday because of injuries, but Atkins hasn’t even practiced in three weeks because of a shoulder injury.

Taylor believes having those two in the interior rotation would help with the pass rush, which was non-existence against Baker Mayfield. The defensive line was supposed to be a strength after the Bengals added D.J. Reader to solidify the interior, and then Daniels arrived as a late pickup to add depth.

“We need to get back there, that’s for sure,” he said. “We need to win the one-on-one battles on the edges. It will be good when we get Geno and Mike back in the interior, that will help with D.J. in there. We do need to get more pressure on the quarterback and when we get the opportunity in the backfield, we have to get him down. … You get a guy like him and he’s great at extending and he’s pretty elusive in the pocket, but I would say we have to be better in that area.”

Having more bodies available on the defensive line could help with the run defense, as well. Tackling was a huge issue Thursday, as the Browns had several explosive plays out of the backfield, and the Bengals haven’t been able to stop the run through two games.

“It’s still inexcusable regardless,” linebacker Josh Bynes said Friday. “…Regardless if those guys are out, we have guys that are capable of stepping up and getting the job done and clearly we didn’t get the job done at all last night. We just can’t let this get in the way of what we still have plenty to accomplish this year.”

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