Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense has five plays of 20 or more yards through Week 4, the lowest number in the NFL this season.
A statistical fact so striking, I had to lead with it.
But this piece has nothing to do with statistics. Normally, I love leaning on them to clearly explain why something is or isn’t happening in the wonderful world of football.
What’s happening with the Bengals is not normal, and I’ve already scoured the stats — nothing ugly is protruding this season that represents a stark difference from Burrow’s dazzling 2022. He’s being pressured at around the same rate. His average depth of target hasn’t changed much. He’s actually getting rid of the ball quicker than last year. Defenses haven’t drastically changed how they’re attacking Cincinnati’s offense.
But that offense is missing its most defining characteristic — confidence.
At its best, the Bengals’ confidence is unbridled and relentless. Burrow scoffs at defenses’ attempts to generate chaos around him and, heck yeah, he’s going to throw a fastball to a seemingly covered Ja’Marr Chase or Tee Higgins. They’ll make the play. The Bengals know it, everyone in the stadium knows it.
From that confidence comes Burrow’s vintage swagger that was spawn in the Louisiana bayou with Chase, Justin Jefferson and Co. when they strutted their way through the gauntlet that is the SEC and trounced the defending champion, Trevor Lawrence-led Clemson Tigers 42-25 in the national title game to cap what, in the estimation of many, is the greatest offensive season in college football history.
And an ultra-confident quarterback with No. 1 overall pick talent, an exquisitely complementary trio of pass catchers and an offensive scheme that’s a limb on the Kyle Shanahan tree, and you get one of the most dynamic attacks in the football.
Without the confidence so integral to their identity, the Bengals’ mojo dissipates, as we’ve…