AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills
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The Bengals' offensive line was down three starters last weekend in Buffalo and was supposed to crumble like last year when Joe Burrow was sacked 70 times.

That was far from the case. The Bengals rushed for 172 yards in their win against the Bills, their second-most in a game this season. Burrow was only sacked once, tied for his fewest in a game this season. Collectively, the offense had one of its best performances of the year, racking up 30 first downs and scoring on five of seven drives (excluding end of halves). Buffalo didn't have Von Miller, but it was certainly a surprising performance. 

So the Bengals' offensive line is just better this year, right? Not exactly.

On the surface it looks like an improved unit this season, no matter who is inserted into the trenches. Burrow has been pressured at the fourth-lowest rate and sacked at the 17th-lowest rate in 2022. Big improvements from his ranks last year -- 19th and 29th.

Joe Burrow Last Two Seasons Including Playoffs20212022




Sack rate



Pressure rate



But the underlying metrics tell a different story. The Bengals' offensive line hasn't improved at all, and maybe it doesn't matter who is back there. Pro Football Focus (PFF) and ESPN Analytics metrics both have the Bengals' pass-blocking and run-blocking units ranked the same or worse than last season. 

They use different methodologies too. PFF uses analysts to grade every player on every play. ESPN Analytics uses NFL Next Gen Stats technology to measure performance in this case. If both humans and machines (for lack of a better term) agree the Bengals' offensive line is getting beat at the same rate, or more often, than last year, I tend to listen.

Bengals Offensive Line Ranks20212022

PFF Pass Block Grade



PFF Run Block Grade



ESPN Pass Block Win Rate



ESPN Run Block Win Rate



So what's the deal? How is Burrow getting pressured and sacked less if on the most fundamental level (winning and losing blocks) the Bengals' offensive line is not improved?

The answer is Joe Burrow, among other factors. 

Quick passing and softer coverage

The first factor is Burrow and the Bengals offense has evolved in part due to how defenses are playing them. The 2022 Bengals offense is not as explosive as last year, when it was one deep ball after another to Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Co. This is a more methodical unit that takes what the defense gives them, and still can burn defenses with the occasional deep shot. 

Burrow has the third-fastest average time to throw (2.55 seconds) in the NFL this season after ranking 12th-fastest (2.68) last season. He's gone from the 16th-shortest (7.7) to sixth-shortest average pass length (6.8) as well. Part of this is because teams are blitzing Burrow less, and playing more two-high safety coverage. Burrow is blitzed at the lowest rate in football and faces two-high safeties at the second-highest rate.

So if Burrow is more decisive and gets rid of the ball quicker, it stands to reason he would take fewer sacks and pressures even if the pass rush is breaking through at the same rate. 

Joe Burrow Tendencies Including Playoffs20212022

Avg time to throw

2.68 sec

2.55 sec

Avg pass length

7.7 yds

6.8 yds

Blitz rate



Rate facing 2+ high safeties



Better mobility and sack avoidance

The other main reason is Burrow is better at avoiding sacks and his mobility is underrated. He ranked fourth in EPA per dropback when scrambling this season, up from 10th a year ago. He was sacked an NFL-high 16 times outside the pocket last year, but that's dropped to seven in 2022. 

His sack avoidance has gotten even stronger as the season has progressed. His sack rate has been cut in half since Week 9 (8.7% to 4.4%) despite being pressured at the exact same rate (27%).

His touchdown to Chase in last weekend's divisional round win against the Bills is a good example of a play where he could have taken a sack, but instead climbed the pocket and found Chase wide open.

How big of a challenge do Chiefs present?

The Chiefs' pass rush ranks second in the league with 55 sacks this season, but isn't significantly improved in terms of beating its blocks. The unit hasn't been enough of a force to slow down Burrow in the last two seasons, whether we're talking about the 2021 or 2022 version of the Bengals' offensive line. 

Burrow has been sacked six times in his three meetings vs. Kansas City, including once in last year's AFC Championship Game where he routinely evaded sacks and made big plays late in the game. 

His numbers against the Chiefs' zone coverage should give you an idea of how Burrow dissects Kansas City's defense over that span, not really allowing the pass rush to become a factor. He's completing nearly 80 percent of his passes for almost 10 yards per attempt and a 133.0 passer rating against the Chiefs' zone in three meetings.

Joe Burrow Career vs. Chiefs Zone Coverage



Comp pct


Yards per attempt




Passer rating


So while Cincinnati may be down three offensive line starters again this week, it may not matter. They have Joe Burrow.