Jake Browning knew the opportunity in front of him: Playing well as the starting quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals can elevate his career to heights he’s only imagined. It was clear as the microphone was during his first Wednesday press conference as QB1.
Just a few minutes into last week’s presser, Browning’s confidence flooded into the airwaves. It was exactly what you wanted to hear from the new on-field leader of the team while the $275 million face of the franchise gears up for surgery.
Sunday proved that words are hard to live up to in the NFL.
Browning’s box score production looked fairly easy on the eyes. A completion rate of 73.1% and 8.7 yards per attempt is not terrible by any means.
Leading just a single touchdown drive and throwing twice as many near interceptions as he had actual interceptions provides more context; -0.13 Expected Points Added per drop back and a QBR of 22.6 provides even more. What had happened was simple. The Bengals called the offense for Browning just like they would’ve for Joe Burrow. No gimmies, no layups, nothing that would indicate he was being tied down due to play-calling.
And it was exactly what Browning asked for.
“Sometimes I feel like the coach is calling plays to just protect the quarterback and keep them from losing the game, but they never really give them the opportunity to win it,” Browning said on Wednesday. “My communication with them was basically call whatever helps us be the Ravens and then I reiterated it again on Saturday just with a text to [quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher].”
“Let’s just call whatever helps us beat the Steelers, and give me that opportunity to go win or lose the game and don’t have the prevailing thought be after the game ‘we called this because we wanted to protect Jake,’ that’s playing to keep it close. We’re planning to go win the game, so just call whatever’s gonna help us win.”
The coaching staff was locked in with Browning to try and keep the offense on schedule like nothing else was different, only there was a difference, and a massive one at that.
The drop-off between Burrow and Browning in terms of timing, decision-making, and pocket management is what tanked the offense’s chances of winning the game. That mattered so much more than the generally quality accuracy Browning threw with.
Browning may want to succeed like a quality starter is expected to do so, but that requires him being a quality starter in the first place. The Steelers showed that he’s not at that level, and the coaches need to accept that as well.
If the Bengals keep trotting out the Joe Burrow-offense with Browning taking the snaps, he’s going to have to play substantially better to salvage what remains of this season.
Perhaps the easier solution is to go against Browning’s wishes.