BENGALS QB JOE BURROW VS. WASHINGTON DE CHASE YOUNG
The NFL's two top draft picks prepare to meet Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) at FedEx Field just outside Washington as Burrow (No. 1) and Young (No. 2) try to replicate what No. 1 Kyler Murray and No. 2 Nick Bosa did last season and become the NFL Offensive and Defensive rookies of the years, respectively.
Both come into the game locked in pretty good races. Burrow, on pace to overtake the Bengals record book this season, is dueling with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. Young, who anchors a Washington Monument of a defensive line featuring five first-round picks, is hand checking another Burrow college teammate, Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen.
And both are looking to atone for what may be typical first-year growing pains but are shoved under the microscope because of where they were drafted.
Burrow called his second-half play "terrible," following Sunday's loss in Pittsburgh, about the time Young was calling himself out for 'a rookie mistake," that cost his team the game against Detroit when he inexplicably got near enough Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford with 12 seconds left to be called for roughing.
Before Wednesday's practice Burrow delved more into his Steelers struggles, accusing himself of "lazy eyes," and not stepping into his throws.
Still, there seems to be only two things that the Bengals' new franchise quarterback can't do. Take on steel objects like a bench and grow a beard.
"Some people like it and some people are making fun of me because it looks like I'm a 13-year-old kid who hasn't shaved in a couple of months," Burrow mused of the wispy, wayward hairs sticking out of the sides of his mask. "But I'm going to ride with it. I kind of like it. It kind of makes me feel like an adult. I haven't felt that way in a long time."
But Burrow has seriously impressed as an adult in the room during his first season, so he's also riding with his no excuses. He could have pointed to Sunday's 20 mile-per-hour wind as a reason for his inaccuracy. He also could have talked about that unfortunate detour into the Bengals' bench on the next to last play of the first half when he got rid of an incompletion to tight end Drew Sample.
Talk about roughing. Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree shoved Burrow late on the play on the sidelines and Burrow ended up rolling his right plant ankle when he spilled into the bench. At that point he was 15 of 24 for 170 yards and had hit 13 of his last 18. From then on he was 6 of 16 for 33 yards.
On Wednesday, like Sunday, he insisted the ankle is fine and had nothing to do with his mechanics.
"I think I was lazy with my eyes and a little lazy with my footwork, didn't step into a lot of throws, which you have to do when it's as windy as it was on Sunday," Burrow said. "There's a lot of little different footwork things that I can improve on.
"My decision making wasn't as sharp as it was. I was seeing the coverage, but things weren't clicking for me as fast as they normally do. Usually, it goes safeties, coverage, play, route, ball. And it was just a little slower than it usually is for me."
That's just the kind of answer new Washington head coach Ron Rivera loved hearing when he spoke with Burrow before the draft. In Wednesday's conference call with Cincinnati media, Rivera said if the Bengals hadn't taken Burrow, they would have at No. 2.
"I like him. I think he's a solid young man. I really enjoyed my opportunity to talk with him and listen to him talk about things," Rivera said. "I think he's a guy who's going to continue to grow. I really do. He's done nothing but be impressive the way he's handling things, the way he's gone about his business.
"We think Joe is the full package. We really do. We think Chase is the full package. Depending on what Cincinnati did, that's what we were going to do. The opposite. We didn't think we would lose out either way. We really didn't. We think both players are going to be great players and have great careers and we're fired up that we have Chase."
Of course, Rivera, the second-round Bill Tobin Bears draft pick from 1984, is a defensive guru who doesn't mind starting with an enormously talented edge rusher like the 6-5, 265-pound Young.
"One of a kind. He's a rare talent that is going to continue to get better every single game and every year," said Burrow, who knew Young at Ohio State when Young was a freshman before they sat together for last year's Heisman ceremony.
"He's really athletic, you just always have to have a game plan for those kid of guys … Chip them, send a lot of different things their way."
A Bengal with probably a better handle on how to play Young is another former Buckeyes teammate, left guard Michael Jordan.
"He's still dominating just like he was at Ohio State," Jordan said before Wednesday's practice. "His quickness is one of his great attributes and so is his hands so that's something the offensive line is going to have to go against this week."
And that's anyone's guess. It's still a bit unclear who the Bengals are going to line up on the right or left side. It looks like Young takes his shots on both tackles. He started the last game against the Lions lining up in the neutral zone and ended it shoving Stafford to the ground late, both lined up over right tackle. According to the numbers, that's the only time Young touched Stafford during the afternoon, but he does have 3.5 sacks and four QB hits this season.
Bengals right tackle Bobby Hart (knee), who has missed the last two games, returned to the field limited Wednesday and it looks like back-up Fred Johnson is still unavailable. But transplanted guard Quinton Spain held up well against the Steelers' T.J. Watt in his first start ever at right tackle and his six-year savvy would test Young.
At left tackle, Jonah Williams (neck stinger) went full Wednesday for the first time since he got hurt Oct. 25 against the Browns, but it's just not Young they have to worry about. Veteran Ryan Kerrigan brings 94.5 sacks off the bench on third down, 4.5 this season.
"It's been tough on Chase early on," Rivera said. "He came out and played really well in the first couple of games and then he got hurt and he's come back and he's come back kind of gradually. And what's happening now is you see teams are turning their protection to him. They're doubling him up, chipping him on the way out. They're not going to give him any easy access to the quarterback and he's learning that very quickly."
But it's just not Young and Kerrigan, either. The other end, Montez Sweat, is a first-rounder. So are tackles Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen.
"The biggest key is to be able to run the football and you've got two guys in the middle that are built to stop the run. That will be the challenge this week," Jordan said.
There are all sorts of Ohio State storylines swirling about this one, not just Burrow vs. Young. Washington's backup quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, got the Buckeyes job in a move that ended with Burrow winning the national title and Heisman at LSU.
But on Wednesday Burrow said he hasn't been tracking Haskins and sounded more interested in talking to 36-year-old Washington starter Alex Smith. Apparently that's the guy then Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer compared Burrow to when he signed Burrow out of Athens High School.
"It was exciting for me because he was a No. 1 overall pick," Burrow said. "That's where I wanted to go and that's what I wanted to be, and obviously ended up happening. Now it's exciting to get to play that guy. I think it will be a lot of fun to have a conversation with him on Sunday."
Last year, Murray and Bosa, another Ohio State edge rusher, played each other twice. Bosa's 49ers swept as he had one quarterback hit and no sacks in the two games. Burrow is 0-2 against fellow overall No. 1s, both tight losses to Cleveland's Baker Mayfield.
Like Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said after hours of watching Washington's defensive line, "There must have been a draft where there was like 80 first-round picks, because it seems like every week that's what we're dealing with."
But Sunday, we're at the top of the draft.