On Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Buffalo Bills to advance to the AFC Championship game. For me, one of the interesting parts of the playoffs as a fan that has been on the outside looking in for a decade is trying to figure out the rhyme or reason why other great teams that I get to see less often than the New York Jets are good (while the Jets remain bad).
As it regards the Bengals, an interesting fact jumped out to me because of how relevant it felt to the Jets season.
Huge shoutout to the Bengals offensive line for its performance yesterday.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 23, 2023
Cincinnati allowed just 1 sack (for 2 yards) of Joe Burrow and had just 1 of 32 rushes lose yardage.
Playing without 3 starters, that group kept Joe Burrow clean and got consistent push. Impressive.
The New York Jets played with a number of backups along their offensive line throughout their season, much like the Cincinnati Bengals did on Sunday. However, the Jets offensive line did not fair nearly as well as Cincinnati’s did. For me, this begs the question of “why?”
In thinking deeper about this question, I came back to another statistic from earlier this season that pertained to the performance of the Jets offensive line varied based on who was playing quarterback. As shown below, the difference in the performance of the offensive line was quite stark based on whether Zach Wilson or anyone else was behind center (at least dating back to statistics following the Jacksonville Jaguars game in week 16).
#Jets blocking with Zach Wilson: 39.8% pressure rate (would rank 30th), 8.6% sack rate (would rank 25th).— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) December 23, 2022
Blocking w/o Zach Wilson: 29.6% pressure rate (would rank 9th), 4.7% sack rate (would rank 6th).
A logical argument as to why the Jets offensive line would improve so much based on the quarterback is the time to throws differ as this lessens the time in which the opposing defensive line can get past the offense line. Notably, this did appear to be the case when comparing Zach Wilson to other Jets QBs (Joe Flacco & Mike White).
Time to throw with Zach Wilson: 3.06 seconds.— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) December 23, 2022
Time to throw w/o Zach Wilson: 2.63 seconds. https://t.co/USVXJNrMT2
Alternatively, one may point to the blitz rates of the defenses, which can vary based on a number of factors, including time to throw. Blitz rates may be important for pass blocking as more blitzers requires the offensive line to block more players with the failure to do so in any singular instance leading to a pressure. Again, there does appear to be a stark difference in the way that defenses played the Jets based on the quarterback such defense blitzed less regularly when Zach Wilson was not playing quarterback.
Also of note: Teams blitz 34.4% of the time against Zach Wilson. That drops to 21.6% without him.— Zack Rosenblatt (@ZackBlatt) December 23, 2022
While correlation is not causation, it also appears that Joe Burrow excels in time to throw while also being blitzed at a low rate, which may explain why his offensive line was able to perform adequately on Sunday despite being largely made up of backup quality players.
Joe Burrow time from snap to throw: 2.35 seconds (2nd fastest to Tom Brady)— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) January 20, 2023
Burrow's PFF grade on throws that take less than 2.5 seconds: 90.9 (highest in the NFL)
Most TD passes (22) under 2.5 seconds
2nd highest Big Time Throw percentage (4.1%) on throws under 2.5 seconds
On the Bills' first blitz of the game, Joe Burrow found a wide open Ja'Marr Chase for a 28-yard TD (8.3 yards of separation).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 22, 2023
Burrow vs the Blitz (2022, incl. playoffs):
16.4% blitz rate (lowest)
95 NGS passing score (2nd)#CINvsBUF | #RuleTheJungle pic.twitter.com/rCKsZ66JE7
It is important to keep in mind that this is not a causal study in any way shape or form and does not provide strong evidence that Burrow’s time to throw was “the” reason the Bengals played well. It is entirely plausible that a number of other factors (including offensive line depth or the Bills defensive line simply having a bad day) led to this strong performance by the Bengals largely backup offense line. Within this article, I am merely collecting datapoints and repeating them to you.
However, within these datapoints, a story begins to unfold that may paint the issues along the Jets offensive line (at least in pass protection) as largely attributable to the quarterback. Accordingly, an optimistic fan could point to these figures as evidence that the Jets 2023 offensive line may not be the weakness that it seemed this season given reports suggest that Zach Wilson will be replaced as the Jets incumbent starter,
But what do you think? Is this all a bunch of coincidental hooey? Is the difference between the Jets offensive line struggles and the Bengals lack of struggles simply chalked up to the talent of each team’s respective backups? Or is the nature of the offense a large factor in the Jets offensive line struggles in 2022 that can easily be remedied?