Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals look like the NFL's team of destiny this postseason. They marched into Arrowhead Stadium as underdogs and looked like the favorites with a second-half comeback that resulted in an overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bengals never panicked and Burrow outdueled Patrick Mahomes to make the Super Bowl in his first full season as the starter. That has him set up for a showdown against the Los Angeles Rams in two weeks.
The fact that the Bengals have made it this far proves they belong on this stage. Yet there is one glaring concern for the team that has been around since Burrow debuted in 2020: their offensive line.
The young quarterback was sacked the most in the league this season, 51 times across 16 games in fact. He has taken 12 more in the playoffs, including nine in the Divisional Round against the Tennessee Titans. That is an unacceptably high number and it's a shock the Bengals were able to win that game and advance.
Ryan Tannehill was second this year with 47 and that came in a full slate of 17 games. Going over 50 had to be a shock to the system for both Burrow and the Bengals coaching staff. They now face arguably their toughest test yet against the Rams.
Bengals and Burrow must prepare for a formidable defensive line
The Rams did not get a single sack on Jimmy Garoppolo in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. However, they did hit him three times and forced him to go 16/30.
The Los Angeles defense still has a three-headed monster in terms of pass-rushers. Aaron Donald led the way during the regular season with 12.5 sacks. Leonard Floyd was second with 9.5, and Von Miller posted five in only eight games. The latter also leads the team this postseason with two sacks.
San Francisco's offensive line was able to do enough to prevent Garoppolo from taking a sack. The problem is that the Bengals have a truly horrific reputation for protecting their own quarterback this season. So how will they fix that problem over the next two weeks?
It may be impossible to truly "fix" this so soon. This is a problem that must be addressed through free agency and the NFL Draft. One bold move was to draft Ja'Marr Chase with the No. 5 overall pick in this past year's draft.
Yes, it has paid off as he forms a dynamic duo with the second-year quarterback that dates back to their days at LSU. The problem is that it did not help solve the glaring weaknesses in their pass protection. The front office saw Burrow suffer a season-ending injury and did not go after a top protector on the line.
Burrow is able to dazzle fans with his amazing throws and visible swagger. But he needs time in the pocket to do that, and the Rams will surely have plans to blitz early and often to make him uncomfortable. If the Bengals still end up winning the Super Bowl, then adding reinforcements in the future will make them a formidable force.