Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow says he doesn't stack himself up against other NFL quarterbacks, but that won't stop everyone else from doing it Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 19) against the Chargers when he duels 2020 draft classmate Justin Herbert.
And the matchup is right up the alley of Burrow, much more comfortable as the underdog. He won the Heisman Trophy and the Bengals made him the No. 1 pick. But it wasn't always like that.
"He was always the guy, really the whole time. For his whole three years, he was going to be the next No. 1 pick. So I knew him the entire time he was playing," Burrow said before Wednesday's practice. "I never thought I would be the No. 1 pick. I was some unknown backup guy for three years."
When Burrow went down with a knee injury last season, Herbert, the sixth pick, won the NFL'S Offensive Rookie of the Year with 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and 4,336 yards. That would have been interesting. In 9.5 games, Burrow was on pace to throw for 4,493 yards with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
"It was one of my goals going into last year," Burrow said of rookie of the year. "That would've meant that I played well in my rookie season and cemented myself as the guy here."
Now he gets Hebert head up. And it's still interesting.
Burrow has a career winning percentage of .430, Herbert .461. Burrow averages 7.4 yards per attempt, Herbert 7.3. Burrow has completed 67.2 percent of his passes, Herbert 66.6. Burrow has a 95.2 passer rating, Herbert 97.5. If there is a big difference it is that Herbert averages 18 rushing yards per game on about four carries while Burrow gets almost 10 yards per game on three carries.
They last spoke at the NFL scouting combine in 2020, but that's been it.
"He was a fun guy to be around." Burrow said. "I follow him. He's been playing really good football … He's fun to watch. Big, strong, strong arm, makes a lot of plays. Good player."
And as far as Burrow is concerned, that's it.
"Everybody likes to talk about the quarterback matchups, but we're playing on offense against their defense and their defensive coach," Burrow said. "I'm excited to watch him play, he's a fun player, but we're going to go out and execute."
The 6-6, 237-pound Herbert is the textbook tall pocket passer with a laser arm. Except there's nothing textbook about him. He's two weeks removed from beating the Steelers with 90 yards rushing and on Wednesday Bengals free safety Jessie Bates III raise the specter of Patrick Mahomes.
"I think what makes him special is that he can get out of the pocket and throw it at the same time," Bates said. "The sidearm, the Mahomes type throws as compared to Trevor (Lawrence). He has that smooth release when he's in the pocket. It's just really smooth. Very accurate. So I think he does a really good job like I said getting outside of the pocket, kind of like Patrick Mahomes and stuff like that. I think that's what this kind of quarterback league is starting to get to, the side arm throws, getting outside of pocket, extended plays, so that's what he does well."
Thanks to Herbert, the Chargers are top ten in offense (8) and passing (6) and he'll test the Bengals on the perimeter and in the secondary. The Chargers are ranked fifth in allowing sacks per game and have two highly rated Pro Football Focus wide receivers in Keenan Allen (15) and Mike Williams (34), and a versatile running back in Austin Ekler with seven touchdowns each receiving and rushing.
Herbert sounds almost like a young Big Ben when it comes to size and ability to extend plays because Bates is sounding like former Bengals safety Chris Crocker back in the day.
"It'll be a big emphasis for the D-line. You know us as a secondary, we just have to plaster," Bates said. "I think that's the biggest thing, plaster just getting to the guys, as he scrambles, and our D-line has to do a really good job of working together and keeping him in the pocket because like I said, he gets out of pocket, that's when a lot of their big plays are coming."
SEPTEMBER TO NOT REMEMBER: Burrow made his debut against the Chargers in last season's opener and Bates had a big game rating as the Bengals' top PFF defender that day. But now, nearly 15 months later, it doesn't help them at all in this game.
"I'm pretty sure we lost that game right?" Bates asked.
Which pretty much sums it up.
"I didn't play great. I think I got a lot better since then," said Burrow, who wasn't bad either with a 23-yard TD run that is still the longest run of his career. "(The Chargers are) very different. A whole new coaching staff, a whole new scheme and all that."
Bates did play great, but he's got the same problem as Burrow. New offense. New coach. And another quarterback started while Herbert held the clipboard.
"I had a pretty good game that game so it's fun to watch, but no, it's a completely different offense," Bates said. "And then you also had Tyrod (Taylor) back there playing quarterback and when I went back and watch that film, it was just nothing but shot vertical shots to (Mike Williams). There wasn't a lot of option routes for Keenan and stuff like that. So this offense has definitely taken off to another level so it's hard to kind of watch that game and kind of put it into this week. We'll put that one to bed "
Burrow does remember getting sacked by old Ohio State buddy Joey Bosa, the first of his 7.5 sacks in 12 games last season. After 11 games this year, he's got another 7.5.
"It's tough to keep that guy away from the quarterback," Burrow said.
JESSIE-JAMES: Call it the Jessie-James showdown. Burrow is right. Everybody is talking about quarterback matchups. But what about a game featuring three of the best safeties in the game in Bates, Vonn Bell and the Chargers' Derwin James? Asked if he relishes being on the same field with James, Bates deferred.
"I like my guy Vonn Bell next to me. But Derwin James is a dynamic safety for sure," Bates said. "(We) have the same agent. I've always been able to watch Derwin's game throughout Florida State. We always played him in the ACC. He's really gifted genetically. It's unfortunate he hasn't been healthy these last couple years. You can see what kind of player he is. I think he has three forced fumbles and like two interceptions. He's having a really good year. "
ZAC'S NEW HOME: Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, a native of Norman, Okla., and the son of a former Sooners captain, has no interest in going home to coach Oklahoma.
"Absolutely not. We've put in too much work here," Taylor said before Wednesday's practice. "I've got too much respect for an organization that took a chance on a young guy that not many people would and have the patience to stick through two difficult years with this vision in place. Nothing has been completed yet so there is zero percent chance I would ever consider something like that."
INJURY UPDATE: The Bengals don't look to have a serious injury from the Steelers game, but they kept out a slew of guys Wednesday. Taylor tentatively thinks right tackle Riley Reiff (ankle) can go Sunday, but they rested him Wednesday, as they did center Trey Hopkins (ankle), running back Chris Evans (ankle) and cornerback Darius Phillips (knee/calf).