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NFL Countdown #19 and Joe Burrow + Zac Taylor Handshake Meme

NFL Countdown #19: Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was aggressive on fourth downs,

but it takes much more than a willingness to take these risks in order to extend drives.


Disclaimer: I couldn’t find a clean dataset with all of the fourth-down conversion attempts for teams. For this blog, I went through every single Bengals snap from 2020 and charted out what they did on fourth downs. Please thank me for my service, as this was an exhausting exercise that only got uglier after Joe Burrow was injured. This is the kind of stuff I was going off of:


I’ve added a table to the end of this blog with what happened on every Bengals 4th down conversion attempt. If for some reason you want this dataset, please reach out to me on Twitter @FB_Dive.


Say what you will about Zac Taylor, but he is a head coach that is keeping up with the times when it comes to making data-driven decisions based on so-called “analytics”. Many coaches are mistaking any numbers they see for analytics (*cough* Mike McCarthy *cough*), but Taylor has been building up a staff of data nerds and putting his money where his mouth is. Under his predecessor Marvin Lewis, the Bengals sat around 22nd in the league in 4th down conversion attempts. Taylor coached the Bengals to 13 successful conversions in his first season, and his team led the league with 19 successful attempts in 2020. The Bengals 70.4% conversion rate was fourth in the league, but the overall numbers don’t tell the full story.

Joe Burrow successfully converted 14 of 17 fourth down attempts before his rookie season was cut short by a torn ACL in week 11. This 82% success rate would have given the Bengals the second-highest rate in the league, and Burrow led his team to a score on 10 of these 14 drives with a successful 4th down conversion (6 TDs, 4 FGs). Joe Burrow is one of the more confident players in the NFL, and we’ve seen him actually deliver in situations where cockier players usually fold under the pressure. After gaining that crucial first down, the Bengals turned the ball over just twice with Burrow under center. The first overall draft pick and reigning Heisman Trophy winner was everything the Bengals needed him to be in his first year, but there just wasn’t enough talent around him to make Cincinnati a contender.

After Burrow was injured in their Week 11 matchup against the Washington Football Team, the Bengals won two of their final six games while completely losing their magic on fourth downs. With the combination of Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley under center, the Bengals were successful on just 50% of their fourth down conversions (tied with the Lions for 24th in the league). Cincinnati failed to do anything with the drives that were extended with successful conversions, making just one field goal while throwing two interceptions, punting once, and failing on a second 4th down try.

The Bengals opted to draft Burrow’s old teammate, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, with their fifth overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Many critics have argued that Cincinnati would have been better off if they had picked up generational prospect offensive tackle Penei Sewell to protect Burrow, but they opted to give him another weapon instead. We’ll see how this works out for the 24-year-old quarterback, but I wouldn’t bet against Joe Burrow rising to the occasion and making some magic with a top-heavy roster full of playmakers in the upcoming 2021 season.

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