The Bengals have only played two games and their entire 2023 season is already starting to fall apart. Not only is the team winless heading into Week 3, but the Bengals are also dealing with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the health of their star quarterback, Joe Burrow.
An 0-2 start isn’t usually something anyone needs to panic about in Cincinnati. After all, the Bengals started the season 0-2 last year before making it all the way to the AFC title game, but this year feels different.
The 0-2 start this year is worse because the Bengals lost two divisional games, and it’s also worse because Burrow is banged up. The Bengals franchise quarterback aggravated his preseason calf injury during Cincinnati’s 27-24 loss to the Ravens on Sunday and he eventhat he wasn’t sure how bad the injury was.
“We’re going to have to wait and see,” Burrow said of his calf. “I’m not sure how it’s going to feel the next couple of days. It’s pretty sore right now. No telling how it’s going to feel. I think we’re going to take it day by day.”
At one point during the loss, Burrow was doing everything possible to keep his calf loose.
Following the game, Burrow admitted he was unsure when he was asked if the calf issue was something that might bother him ALL season.
“It’s tough to tell, tough to look into the future and see that,” Burrow said when asked if he anticipates dealing with the injury all year. “I’m doing everything I can to get healthy and get that thing the way I need it to so I can go out and perform the way I need to to win. We’ll see.”
That’s definitely not the answer you want hear if you’re a Bengals fan. The only way the calf is going to heal is if Burrow gets time off, but the only way he’s going to get time off is if he sits out.
This essentially leaves the Bengals in an unenviable situation where they have two options.
The first one is that you keep playing Burrow knowing that he won’t be 100%. The problem with this solution is that he’s dealing with an injury to his right calf. As a right-handed quarterback, Burrow is pushing off his right leg with almost every single one of his throws. The injury seems to be causing two problems: Burrow is struggling to throw down field and he’s a lot less mobile than he’s been in the past.
As far his downfield accuracy goes, Burrow is 0 for 12 on passes of 15 or more air yards this season, according to the CBS Sports research team. Basically, he can’t hit the big play, which is a huge part of the Bengals offense.
During the Bengals’ 0-2 start last year, Burrow averaged 268.5 passing yards per game. This year, that number is down to 152 yards per game and it’s down even though Burrow is facing a lot less pressure. In 2022, he was sacked 13 times through the first two weeks. This year, he’s only been sacked three times through two games.
The offensive line is doing its job, Burrow’s calf just seems to be preventing him from doing his. If Burrow keeps playing and the offense keeps struggling, then his calf is getting worse for no reason.
As far as his mobility goes, Burrow has one run for five yards through two weeks. Last year, he had six rushes for 47 yards in Week 1 alone. He then followed that up with four runs for 26 yards in Week 2. It almost seems like he’s afraid to take off this year because he’s afraid of reinjuring the calf. Burrow’s mobility is an under-appreciated part of the Bengals offense that they haven’t really been able to utilize this year.
The other option is to put Burrow on injured reserve. This may sound drastic, but it could end up being the only way to save their season. As things stand right now, the Bengals’ next four games look like this:
Week 3: vs. Rams (1-1)
Week 4: at Titans (1-1)
Week 5: at Cardinals (0-2)
Week 6: vs. Seahawks (1-1)
The Bengals also have a bye in Week 7, so if Burrow went on IR now, he’d miss four games, but he’d also get an extra week to heal thanks to the bye. If the Bengals went this route, that means Burrow would get to heal from Sept. 18 thru Oct. 23. During the preseason, Burrow’s calf injury sidelined him for nearly a month (July 27 thru Aug. 30).
If the Bengals were to win just one game while Burrow was out, that would put them at 1-5 when he gets back. At that point, they’d probably have to go 9-2 or 8-3 to give themselves a shot at the playoffs, which is something the Bengals would certainly be capable of with a healthy Burrow.
This is a dicey situation and at this point, here’s what I would do: If the Bengals think he’s healthy enough to play in Week 3, then let him play. On the other hand, if the Bengals are thinking about sitting him due to the calf injury, then I’d go ahead and put him on IR and give him the full five weeks to heal.
Of course, the problem with letting him play is that he’ll be facing Aaron Donald and then no matter what happens against the Rams, he’ll be losing a day of rest for Week 4 because the Bengals will be on a short week coming off a Monday night game. So there’s even some risk when it comes to letting him play.
The Bengals made a $275 million investment in Burrow and if they want to make sure he’s healthy for the long term, then sitting him for the next few weeks might be the way to go.