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Galina: The Cincinnati Bengals will return to the playoffs if QB Joe Burrow can fine-tune the deep passing game

Nov 22, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) passes the ball under pressure from Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young (99) in the second quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Cincinnati Bengals and quarterback Joe Burrow doomed to a life of 6-yard gains for the rest of eternity? One could certainly start to fall for that assumption after just one year of the Burrow era, as the Bengals failed miserably when it came to creating explosive passing plays in 2020.

But not so fast, my friend.

This offense’s inability to complete those desperately needed deep passes is probably a one-year anomaly. And with Burrow already showing his worth everywhere else on the field, the Bengals will enter the 2021 campaign as a sneaky good pick to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Before we dive into the deep-ball issues that plagued the 2020 version of the Bengals, it’s important to look at everything else Joe Burrow does. From the first game of his NFL career, the former LSU quarterback showed off his elite footwork and accuracy that not only gives him an edge over most quarterbacks his age but a step up over those who have more experience at the NFL level.

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On passes thrown under 20 yards downfield, Burrow ranked highly among last year's quarterbacks in most of the most stable metrics from year to year.

PFF Grade Rank
Passing grade from a clean pocket 5th
Passing grade on straight dropbacks 4th
Passing grade on first/second down 5th
Passing grade with no play action 7th
Passing grade on passes thrown at/beyond the first-down marker 17th
Percentage of negatively graded throws 2nd

Here are his ranks for those same metrics among all rookie quarterbacks since 2006:

PFF Grade Rank
Passing grade from a clean pocket 1st
Passing grade on straight dropbacks 3rd
Passing grade on first/second down 1st
Passing grade with no play action 2nd
Passing grade on passes thrown at/beyond the first-down marker 4th
Percentage of negatively graded throws 1st

Those are incredible numbers that mostly come down to the fact that he doesn’t make a ton of “read” mistakes; he’s always finding the open player, and he’s throwing the ball accurately all the time, no matter what kind of route he sets his sights on.

A big reason why he’s so good throwing outside is that he always throws on time and always aligns his back foot to the target so he’s never off-balance. It’s easier to align your feet on in-breaking routes because the back foot doesn’t have to rotate as much.

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