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 also face a lot of uncertainty regarding the health of their star quarterback, Joe Burrow.
An 0-2 start is generally not something anyone needs to panic about in Cincinnati. After all, the Bengals started the season 0-2 last year before advancing to the AFC title game, but this year is different.
The 0-2 start this year is worse because the Bengals have lost two division games, and it’s also worse because Burrow is banged up. The Bengals franchise quarterback aggravated his calf injury during Cincinnati’s 27-24 loss to the Ravens on Sunday and eventhat he was unsure of the severity of his injury.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” Burrow said of his calf. “I don’t know how it’s going to feel over the next few days. It’s pretty painful right now. We don’t know how it’s going to feel. I think we’ll take it day by day.”
At one point during the loss, Burrow was doing everything possible to keep his calf free.
After the game, Burrow admitted he wasn’t sure when asked if the calf issue was something that could bother him ALL season.
“It’s hard to say, hard to look into the future and see that,” Burrow said when asked if he plans to deal with his injury all year. “I’m doing everything I can to be healthy and get what I need so I can go out and perform the way I need to to win. We’ll see.”
This is definitely not the answer you want to hear if you’re a Bengals fan. The only way the calf will heal is if Burrow takes time off, but the only way he can get time off is to sit down.
This essentially leaves the Bengals in an unenviable situation where they have two options.
The first is that you continue to play Burrow knowing that he won’t be 100%. The problem with this solution is that he has a right calf injury. As a right-handed quarterback, Burrow pushes his right leg back on almost every one of his throws. The injury appears to cause two problems: Burrow has difficulty moving around the field and he is much less mobile than in the past.
When it comes to his downfield accuracy, Burrow is 0 of 12 on passes of 15 or more air yards this season, according to the CBS Sports Research Team. Basically, he can’t make the big play, which is a big 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 falling even though Burrow faces a lot less pressure. In 2022, he was sacked 13 times in the first two weeks. This year, he has only been sacked three times in two games.
The offensive line is doing its job, Burrow’s calf just seems to be preventing him from doing his job. If Burrow continues to play and the offense continues to struggle, then his calf gets worse for no reason.
As for his mobility, Burrow has a five-yard rush through two weeks. Last year, he had six carries for 47 yards in Week 1 alone. He then followed that up with four carries for 26 yards in Week 2. It almost seems like he’s afraid to take off this year because he is afraid of injuring his calf again. Burrow’s mobility is an underrated 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. It may seem drastic, but it could prove to be the only way to save their season. As it stands, the Bengals’ next four games look like this:
Week 3: against the Rams (1-1)
Week 4: among the Titans (1-1)
Week 5: among the Cardinals (0-2)
Week 6: against the Seahawks (1-1)
The Bengals also have a bye in Week 7, so if Burrow went on IR now, he would miss four games, but he would also have an extra week to heal thanks to the bye. If the Bengals go this route, that means Burrow could heal from September 18 to October 23. During the preseason, Burrow’s calf injury sidelined him for almost a month (July 27 to August 30).
If the Bengals won just one game while Burrow was out, that would put them at 1-5 when he returns. At this point, they would probably need to be 9-2 or 8-3 to give themselves a chance at the playoffs, something the Bengals would certainly be capable of with a healthy Burrow.
It’s a risky 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 considering sitting him due to the calf injury, then I would go ahead and put him on IR and give him a full five weeks to heal.
Of course, the problem with letting him play is that he will face Aaron Donald and no matter what happens against the Rams, he will lose an off day for Week 4 because the Bengals have a short week coming up. on a Monday night game. So there is even a risk in letting him play.
The Bengals invested $275 million in Burrow and if they want to make sure he’s healthy long term, then sitting him out for the next few weeks might be the way to go.