History says Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow always seems to bounce back big and that's what they need in Sunday's Paycor Stadium opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the Ravens.
Three of his four lowest passer ratings have been uncorked in openers, with last Sunday's 52.2 in Cleveland the lowest. But in the next game he has a combined 98 passer rating with seven touchdowns and an interception. The Bengals are 1-2, but both were tight losses on the road.
"Long season. Everybody has bad games," said Burrow after Wednesday's practice. "That's going to happen, and what makes you who you are and hopefully makes you the player that you are is how you respond to games like that and how consistent can you be afterwards."
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan says Burrow is the same after a good game as he is after a bad game. Burrow re-paid the compliment to Callahan and head coach and play-caller Zac Taylor, while highlighting the work of quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher and offensive line coach Frank Pollack.
"Honestly, I think that's why we've been able to overcome a lot of adversity here. We've started to slow some. We've had stretches of a couple of losses in a row, but nobody ever panics," Burrow said. Coaches don't panic, players don't panic. And like I said, it starts with Zac. He's the same every week. We're going to come in and get our work done. Have fun and go perform on Sundays."
_Burrow has not lost to the Ravens at Paycor in two regular-season games and one Wild Card Game and it's his first home matchup against Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson.
After his Bengals-record 525 yards against them in 2021, the two games last year were grind jobs.
"They run the ball really well on offense, so it limits your possessions, and then their defense is tough, physical," Burrow said. "They are very sound in their scheme. They do a great job of sending blitzes at you that you don't see on tape before. They have a lot of great week-to-week gameplan stuff, so you have to be able to adapt well to it. They've got good players, good coach, good scheme.
On Sunday, the Ravens blitzed the same 14 times as Cleveland did on Sunday, although for the Browns it represented nearly 40 percent of the plays while for Baltimore it was 26 percent. That's a little bit more than what the Ravens did last year at 21 percent. In the last two games last season, according to PFF, they came at him 15 percent of the time in the season finale and then jacked it up to 28 percent in the playoffs.
There's a belief that until Burrow proves his calf is 100 percent, teams are going to blitz him, even though last year he tattered blitzes for a 114.7 passer rating, second-best against the blitz. Burrow was just three of 12 vs. the blitz in Cleveland, PFF said.
"We didn't handle it well on Sunday," Burrow said. "Obviously, we didn't handle much well on Sunday, so you live and you learn."
And then there's always the question of what's a blitz and the way the Browns used middle linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, wearing the odd looking No. 6.
"I don't think Cleveland blitzes as much as you think because No. 6 is just filling," said center Ted Karras. "A fast-fill guy. You can say they blitzed nearly 40 percent in quotes. I think it was more run-fit strategy for the MIKE to run right through when he reads run. We'll get a lot of different stuff. Especially the way we run our offense with spread-out formations. There are lines moving, blitzes, trying to create one-on-ones."
And, there's this. Burrow has fared well against that Baltimore scheme. His career 101 passer rating (nine TDs vs. three picks) against them is his best against AFC North teams.
_Burrow appeared on Wednesday's injury report listed as full go and he said he came out of the game OK but sore. Asked about how much he can scramble, he said, "We're feeling it out."
He reiterated that some of the offense's problems last Sunday stemmed from his 34-day absence at training camp because of the strained calf.
"You just go over those reps. Those things happen early in the year for all teams," Burrow said. "You try to limit them as much as you can, but they happen every year, especially when your quarterback doesn't play in training camp. You just got to work those things out in practice. We had a really good day today."
_One last rainy day thought from Burow. He tried a glove on his throwing hand during the second quarter in Cleveland.
"When it's raining really hard, it's actually easier to throw. Something about the ball when it gets really wet, it's easier to throw," Burrow said. "When it's misting like that and the water stays on the surface of the ball, it makes it a little more challenging. Obviously, that's not an excuse. Just a fact. You live and you learn and try to handle it better the next time."
_Burrow didn't know former Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green returns to Paycor Sunday as "Ruler of the Jungle," but he knows that Green's mere presence in his final season as a Bengal provided a lift for Burrow in his first.
"Oh nice. I loved AJ. I was lucky to be with him for a year," Burrow said. "I was excited about that coming in playing with a player of his pedigree and so whenever he comes back, I haven't seen him in a while, but I'm looking forward to it because he did so much here for this organization and for this city. I'm excited for the fans and for him to come back and hopefully they give him a good response."
_You know you're a celebrity quarterback when you get as many questions about your haircut as you do about the blitz. Along with a hairy follow-up.
Such is the case for Burrow when he showed up Wednesday with freshly shorn locks buzzed around the ears and was asked what the kids should ask for when they ask the barber for a Burrow.
"You're looking at it. I don't even know what to tell people. They just make it happen," said Burrow, who was also asked when he knows it's time for a haircut.
"When you have a game like that on Sunday," Burrow said.
And he wasn't kidding. That much.
"A little of both. A little of both."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Pass rusher Joseph Ossai (ankle) returned to practice Wednesday, a little over two weeks since he got injured in the preseason finale and went limited…Tackle-edge Cam Sample (ankle) did not practice but worked the bike… Safety Dax Hill (hand) went full while middle linebacker Logan Wilson (ankle) and running back Chris Evans (hamstring) were limited …
The Bengals signed one of the best right tackles in football in the heart of 2022 free agency when they inked La'el Collins to a three-year $21-million deal before they released him Tuesday from the physically unable to perform list (PUP). Collins gave them that hard-edged stability after he barely practiced in training camp with a back issue and got better as the season went on. It abruptly stopped when he tore his ACL in the Christmas Eve win in Foxborough.
"He worked really hard for us and have a lot of respect for LC and the way he went about his business and obviously gave us some really good snaps last year until the injury," Zac Taylor before Wednesday's practice. "Enjoy being around LC and he's one of those guys that just loves ball and you enjoy being around him. Never a great time. That was a tough one."
There could have been a variety of elements at play. One thing is certain. They appear to be satisfied with starter Jonah Williams' move from left to right tackle and the re-emergence of 2021 fourth-rounder D'Ante Smith.
Smith, who has played in more postseason games (five) than in the regular season (three), impressed his rookie training camp before he got hurt. He was active last Sunday while the other swing tackle, Jackson Carman, who started two postseason games at left tackle last year in place of the injured Willams, was not. Cody Ford was also active and flexible.
"He can play tackle, he can play guard, he's gotten reps to tackle. Another guy that we thought had a really good camp," said Taylor of Ford. "I think D'Ante had a good camp for us. We continue to develop guys like D'Ante and Jackson and those guys that can give us good tackle reps if need. We feel good about our depth there." …
Burrow only met Aaron Rodgers when they played (a classic A-Rod OT win at Paycor in 2021), but like everyone else he felt badly about Rodgers' season-ending torn Achilles'.
"We've all been playing this game long enough. You're going to have something like that happen to you. So that's obviously really tough to see," Burrow said. "I know how excited they were to have him there and how excited he was to have a new start. Tough way to start off the year. So I'm feeling for him." …