Even in the midst of a surprise trip to the Super Bowl last season, it was a common sight in the regular season and throughout the AFC playoffs to see Cincinnati Bengals’ star quarterback Joe Burrow picking himself up off the turf following a hit, hurry or sack.
That sight was especially nerve-wracking for Bengals coaches, fans and front office personnel, especially after Burrow was lost for the season as a rookie with a devastating knee injury. That type of beating he was taking down the stretch and in the playoffs wasn’t sustainable, and in the end cost the Bengals in the Super Bowl.
In the offseason, Cincinnati went right to work addressing that issue up front, signing center Ted Karras, guard Alex Cappa and right tackle La’el Collins in free agency, while also drafting Shrine Bowl standout Cordell Volson, who will take over as the starting left guard.
Now, the Bengals feel rather good about their starting offensive line that is in charge of protecting Burrow. Still, a massive test awaits right out of the gates in Week 1 as the Bengals have to deal with one of the best front seven’s in the league in the Pittsburgh Steelers, led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, All-Pro defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, free agent signees Larry Ogunjobi and Myles Jack, a healthy Tyson Alualu and Devin Bush, and an emerging third-year pro in Alex Highsmith.
The Bengals are rather familiar with the Steelers overall, especially Burrow, who has been sacked five times in three matchups with the Steelers and battered around countless other times. Ahead of the Week 1 season opener at Paycor Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m. Burrow knows it will be a big test for his new offensive line, as well as himself, getting the ball out quickly against one of the best fronts in the league.
“They have one of the best front sevens in the league. They’re going to get pressure on the quarterback,” Burrow said to reporters Wednesday, according to Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley. “We’re going to have a good game plan. I know the coaches are going to put the work in to help us and put us in positions to succeed. It’s on us to go out and execute the game plan and the o-line is going to have a tough job. I’m going to have a tough job getting the ball out quickly and finding completions. That front is good.
“One of the best fronts in the league. A good test for us Week 1.”
It certainly will be a good test for the Bengals’ new-look offensive line on Sunday, as it will be a good test for the Steelers’ defense to see how they measure up on the season, which just so happens to be a year in which they’ll be relied upon heavily to help the Steelers contend week to week.
Anytime Watt and Heyward are healthy up front, pressure is going to be created. It’ll be key for a guy like Highsmith and new trade acquisition Malik Reed to hit the ground running and provide support opposite Watt, as well as Ogunjobi on the interior against his old team.
Creating pressure, rattling Burrow and disrupting timing will go a long way towards helping a mostly-unproven cornerback room with the Steelers succeed against an explosive receiver room that the Bengals currently possess.
What a matchup it will be Sunday.