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Quick Hits: Zac Cautious on Joe Burrow; Mixon And OL Draw Praise; Bengals Defense Adjusting To Young DBs; Deep Thoughts

QB Joe Burrow hands the ball off to HB Joe Mixon during the Ravens-Bengals game on Sunday, September 17, 2023.
QB Joe Burrow hands the ball off to HB Joe Mixon during the Ravens-Bengals game on Sunday, September 17, 2023.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor had no update on Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow Monday after he limped off the field Sunday following a touchdown pass to wide receiver Tee Higgins with 3:28 left in the 27-24 loss to Baltimore at Paycor Stadium.

But what is known is that he doesn't know if Burrow can start Monday night's (8:15-ESPN) Ring of Honor game at Paycor against the Rams.

"It's hard for me to say right now," Taylor said.

And he indicated there are discussions to be had on how they're going to handle the strained right calf that robbed him of his training camp.

Play him or rest it?

"First of all, we have to hear what the doctors have to say before we start to assume anything," Taylor said. "Once we get that information, we have those (conversations), figure out what we're going to do."

It was hard to find any clues on Monday. All you had was Burrow walking briskly through the locker room and backup quarterback Jake Browning taking a stationary bike into the sauna.

Taylor did say before Burrow re-aggravated it that he thought he was pretty much full go. He did have a vintage 2022 play where he avoided a sack by leaping over a pile on the first snap of the second half.

"I felt really good about him. I felt like he had a great week of practice last week," Taylor said. "He's the only one that can answer on how he truly feels, but you got the sense that it was really good."

BUILDING BLOCKS: After sifting through the tape, Taylor had good reviews for his offensive line and running back Joe Mixon. Pro Football Focus had Burrow getting hit and sacked only once to go with four hurries. and Mixon upped his yards per average to 4.4. yards per his 26 carries.

"I thought our linemen did an outstanding job in pass protection yesterday," Taylor said. "There's a clip on third down. We were short of the sticks on a cover zero (all-out blitz) where no one hit the quarterback. They had one more (blitzer) than we had (blocker) and our guys fought them off and nobody even touched the quarterback. I was encouraged by a lot of things yesterday that way."

Meanwhile, Mixon upped his yards per average to 4.4. yards per his 26 carries, and for the second straight week had the team's longest offensive play, a 32-yard catch. PFF has him for 86 yards after contact, 16th in the league.

"Mixon has played really well through two games. I notice for certain the yards after contact and a lot of that is a credit to the offensive line getting movement initially," Taylor said. "Sometimes the yards after contact is just an arm and Mixon's able to take that arm and drag another couple of (defenders) four, five, six yards down the field. I think up front those guys have done a really good job and I think that Mixon has done a really good job hitting it where it needs to hit and getting yards after contact and running with a full head of steam and making guys pay when they try to take him down.

"Unfortunately, we've been down 10-plus points in both of the games we played and so it becomes a different style of game. Really, really pleased with where he's been for us."

IN A NUTSHELL: No one can sum up a game more succinctly than defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.

"Just really a bunch of missed opportunities. I think if you asked our guys, they say the same thing," Anarumo said Monday. "Lamar's (Jackson) a great player. We know that. First drive of the game where they score, you'll get two free runners at them for potential sacks (safety Nick Scott and linebacker Germaine Pratt), and we don't make either play. We had zero sacks. Two called back on a penalty.

"And then when I thought we had four other opportunities to get him on the ground and we didn't. That gets them off schedule and allows us to do some different things, but it never got that way. So they were manageable third downs for them. And they were able to convert at a high rate. (They had nine third downs of four yards or fewer and made eight.) We played too many plays in the first half and can't sustain it that way. So that's kind of it in a nutshell."

LOU'S LYRICS: Anarumo isn't happy his unit is ranked last in rushing. But after finishing seventh last year and fifth the year before, he doesn't see it as a trend, either.

"There's always concern when we've given up as many yards as we have. But it's still the same players in place and we've been top five in the league," Anarumo said. "I would be really concerned if I saw guys getting knocked off the ball and this, that, and the other thing, I'm not seeing that. So we've just have to fit these things better."

Taylor chalked it up to playing two of the best running teams in the NFL in games they fell behind.

"We got them the first two weeks of the season. We haven't played with the lead and that's complementary football," Taylor said. "That's the offense not doing a good enough job getting points on the board in the first two drives to take pressure off the defense where teams aren't playing with a ten-point lead against two great rushing teams that can then lean on the run. There's no overreaction for me in terms of assessing our rush defense when you look because there's a lot of really good stuff there. And if we can play with a lead, which we plan on doing, then it really limits the other team's ability to just lean on the run like they have."

CAM-OBJ: Anarumo decided to travel sophomore cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt on canny veteran Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and he was rewarded with a solid effort. Everyone knows he was wrongly flagged while covering OBJ in the end zone since he was the guy that got pulled down. Before Beckham exited with an ankle injury late in the first half, he finished with three catches for 29 yards.

CTB did give up a 15-yard slant early.

"It was a slant on the back side and we were in Cover Three and I bailed out (at the line of scrimmage)," Taylor-Britt said. "At that point I changed it up and got on him tighter."

Taylor-Britt played all but one of the 74 snaps, while the other cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie, went from playing about half the snaps last week to 73% Sunday in his climb back from ACL rehab, while rookie DJ Turner played 32%.

"I thought he was confident and did a good job," Anarumo said of CTB. "We like Cam on most guys. I know Odell, as savvy as he is, he's such a great player. But we have a lot of faith in Cam, too."

SAFETY EVOLUTION: The Bengals are young and new in a large part of the secondary and while Anarumo said Sunday's first exposure to Ravens magician Lamar Jackson had some growing pains, he's also been heartened by the play of guys like sophomore safety Dax Hill, rookie safety Jordan Battle coming off the bench for Nick Scott (concussion) in the fourth quarter, and the rookie cornerback Turner.

He particularly likes how Hill matched up against Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews in man coverage. But he also committed the no-no of jumping on a Jackson pump fake on a screen that gave him nine yards on a run. Yet Anarumo also said Hill did the right thing on the 52-yard bomb to rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers and stayed up. Anarumo said Turner should have picked it.

'I thought Cam was there. It was a hell of a catch and throw. DJ could have pushed quicker," Anarumo said. "He ended up getting there. It was about a stride away from being close enough to knock the ball away. So it's a lesson learned for the rookie there, where as soon as we do the coverage, the way we did it there, he's got to go like a bat out of hell to get there. So he should intercept it, really. "

Scott, the veteran free agent signed over the offseason, left the game with a concussion on one of the key plays of the game when Andrews went over the middle for 20 yards on second-and-23 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

"We kind of had a guy under him, guy over him. It's just a little bit late to get to him. Unfortunately, that's the play where Nick got hurt," Anarumo said. "Nick's got to go right now and there should be no delay," but the injury occurred.

Another rookie lesson was learned with Battle rushed into battle. On one snap he played pass when he was unblocked and didn't fill the gap on a 12-yard run. But in the end, Anarumo thinks Sunday's experience will be beneficial for the kids.

"I think it'll pay dividends down the road for sure," Anarumo said. "Unfortunately, this time of the year, you know, it costs you when you have a rookie safety in that situation where they're a little unsure and it's his first time, but he'll get better and learn from it."

DEEP THOUGHTS: Burrow has one of the most lethal deep balls in the game, but he's 0-for-6 this season on passes of 20 yards or more. The man who led the NFL in yards per attempt with 8.9 in 2021 is ahead of only Carolina rookie Bryce Young with 4.22. His deep play threat, wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, would like to see more go balls. Chase, whose longest catch of the season is 13 yards, said they threw one to him Sunday, but it was an incomplete flag route for 17 yards.

Now, he's not clamoring for the ball a la Chad Johnson so he can salute The Ocho in time for Monday Night's Ring of Honor ceremony. In fact, he said he was glad, "To see Tee eat," after wide receiver Tee Higgins had 89 yards on eight catches and two touchdowns.

But he's just looking for a couple of more shots.

"We really haven't taken that many shots downfield. If you look at the last two games, you don't really see that many shots downfield. We've got to take more shots downfield. That's why we have deep-threat guys. Take a chance.

"Just some downfield shots that way we can come back to anything else underneath."

Taylor doesn't mind hearing it.

"As a player, you want the ball. Especially when you're a great player, and that's what I preach about our guys because they always want the ball in small moments, the big moments," Taylor said. "Ja'Marr has made a lot of plays down the field for us. Baltimore knows that.

"And they're going to do everything they can to prevent that. We keep looking at different scheme ways to get our guys the ball. But one thing you can tell yesterday, they were hell-bent on not giving up explosives. That's part of it. That's why we got a 16-play drive at the end of the game because they're going to try and keep everything in front."

Taylor was pleased with the way Burrow distributed the ball.

"I felt like we got the ball where it needed to go, based on the response of the defense. Felt like we were very efficient passing the ball," Taylor said. "Of the seven drives, two of them weren't efficient. A third one ended in a turnover … if we could come away with points on the turnover drive, you're scoring on over 50% of your drives. That's pretty solid."