Here’s why Joe Burrow has been sacked less this season behind the Bengals’ offensive line

The Bengals offensive line was down three starts last weekend in Buffalo and should crumble like last year when Joe Burrow was sacked 70 times.

That was far from the case. The Bengals rushed for 172 yards in the win against the Bills, their second most in a game this season. Burrow was sacked just once, tied for his fewest in a game this season. Overall, the offense had one of its best performances of the year, with 30 first downs and scores on five of seven drives (excluding the end of the 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 put 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.




Sack percentage



Print speed



But the underlying calculations tell a different story. The Bengals’ offensive line hasn’t improved at all, and maybe it doesn’t matter who’s 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 also use different methods. PFF uses analysts to grade each player on each 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 that the Bengals’ offensive line is getting beat at the same rate, or more often, than last year, I tend to listen.

PFF passing block grade



PFF Run Block Grade



ESPN Pass Block Win Rate



ESPN Run Block Win Rate



So what’s the deal? How does Burrow get pressured and sacked less if at the most basic level (winning and losing blocks) the Bengals’ offensive line isn’t improved?

The answer is Joe Burrow, among other factors.

Fast overtaking and softer coverage

The first factor is Burrow and the Bengals’ offense has evolved in part because of how defenses play them. The Bengals offense in 2022 isn’t 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 can still 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 has also gone from the 16th-shortest (7.7) to the sixth-shortest average passing yardage (6.8). Part of this is because teams give Burrow less, playing more safety coverage with two high levels. Burrow is overwhelmed with the slowest rush in football and faces two tall safeties with the second-highest rush.

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

Average time to throw

2.68 sec

2.55 sec

Average pass length

7.7 yds

6.8 yds

Flash rate



Consider facing 2+ high safeties



Better mobility and bag avoidance

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

His sack avoidance has gotten even stronger as the season has gone on. He’s been cut in half since Week 9 (8.7% to 4.4%) despite being pushed at exactly the same frequency (27%).

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

How big a challenge do the Chiefs have?

The Chiefs’ pass rush is second in the league with 55 sacks this season, but isn’t much improved when it comes to beating the blocks. The unit hasn’t been enough to slow Burrow over the past 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 with Kansas City, including once in last year’s AFC Championship Game where he routinely avoided 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 be a factor. He’s completing nearly 80 percent of his passes for nearly 10 yards per attempt and a 133.0 passer rating against the Chiefs’ zone in three meetings.



Comp pct


Yards per attempt


Passed TD-INT


Passer assessment


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

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