In Honor Of Joe Burrow's Birthday, Here's A Compelling Case For Why He's The NFL MVP (So Far)
Happy Birthday, Joe Burrow. You're the man. The Cincinnati Bengals franchise savior. Joe Brrr. Joe Cool. Joey B. All the nicknames. We have numerous shirts of merch at the Barstool Store made in your honor.
I was thinking about how to properly pay tribute to arguably the NFL's best quarterback on his special day. Wasn't fully convinced upon digging into the data that I'd be able to mount a convincing MVP campaign for him for a variety of reasons. Firstly, Jalen Hurts' rapid ascent and the fact that the Eagles own the league's best record bolster his case. Then, you have Patrick Mahomes as an annual top contender who tops everyone in passing yards entering Week 14 and hasn't really skipped a beat without Tyreek Hill.
Speaking of The Cheetah, he's in Miami, helping Tua Tagovailoa unlock his full potential as the NFL's leading receiver. Tua has emerged as an MVP darkhorse as well. Last but not least, the Bills have been the NFL media's darlings. Assuming Josh Allen finishes the season strong, he'll be firmly in the mix despite losing his preseason status as the favorite for the NFL's top individual accolade.
Here are the latest odds by the way, via Barstool Sportsbook:
If you'll indulge me (you have no choice unless you click away now), allow me to explain why I believe Joe Burrow deserves the hardware. Only a little bit of personal bias plays into this. My aim is to present a holistic view of the MVP race and underscore why Burrow is THE guy.
Note: Advanced stats courtesy of PFF's Passing Grades unless otherwise indicated.
Cut Joe some slack for that burst appendix
I'm fully aware the Bengals started the season 0-2. OH I HEARD ABOUT IT. Let me tell you. Especially after I wrote this before Week 1 kicked off:
The o-line was still jelling (read: playing like shit). Burrow was getting his sea legs back under him quite literally. All the extra explosiveness and strength he built up in the offseason was pretty much gone. That emergency appendectomy nary could've been timed worse. Hence, Cincinnati lost to opposing QBs Mitch Trubisky and Cooper Rush. Burrow took 13 sacks in those losses, and even in the Week 3 win over the Jets, he committed three more turnover-worthy plays to reach seven through three starts.
Since then, though...Joey Franchise has been lights the fuck out amid an 8-2 stretch.
Joey B = Maximum Efficiency
The Bengals offense was believed to be a fluke last year in part because of the heavy reliance on explosive downfield passing plays. Never mind how impressive that was considering the ass pass blocking Burrow was behind. People just wanted to write Cincinnati off. Again, the 0-2 start played right into that precooked narrative.
Instead of regressing, failing to adapt and getting gun-shy behind shabby protection early on, Burrow and the Bengals offensive coaching staff adapted. Just look at the main categories in which Burrow is elite:
- 2nd in completion rate, 2nd in pass yards, t-2nd in TDs
- 2nd-least blitzed QB in the NFL (20.1 DB%) behind Brady.
- 3rd-lowest pressure rate (26%)
- Tied 4th in turnover-worthy plays (1.9%)
- 5th in passer rating (103.7)
Here's where it gets really nutty: Unlike several young signal-callers, Burrow doesn't lean on play-action passing as a crutch. He's PFF's highest-graded passer on non-PA attempts. Cincinnati's usage of play action (16.3%) is tied for DFL alongside the one-dimensional, Tom Brady-led Bucs offense.
The difference, of course, is that Burrow is having a far better year than TB12.
Mahomes uses play action on 23% of his dropbacks, while Allen is at 24.4%. Hurts is all the way up at 34.4%. Tua is No. 1 at 44.8% (!!).
I can only imagine what Burrow could do with more of an emphasis on play action, which usually sets up explosive plays through the air and simplifies reads for the QB. He's so good that he doesn't need any of that shit!
How Joe's quick processing mitigates the impact of pressure
Since the aforementioned two losses out of the gates, Burrow has taken only 21 sacks in his last 10 starts. Such a low rate would be inconceivable during his first couple of NFL seasons.
On dropbacks where he's been sacked, Burrow has had the fourth-lowest time to throw (3.02 seconds). Translation: Dude basically had no chance before a defender was in his lap when pressure has gotten home. Juxtapose that with Hurts (4.05s), who plays behind PFF's best pass blocking line.
Allen has 3.66s TTT on sack dropbacks, as he has a little less patience in the pocket than Burrow. That's eighth-highest among qualifying QBs.
For the obivous strides the Bengals have made in the trenches, PFF still ranks them 25th in pass blocking. I don't take PFF as the be-all, end-all bible on all advanced stats, yet I think that's notable. And it's a testament to the job Burrow has done getting rid of the ball with purpose as opposed to panic.
Digging even deeper, here are instances where QB pressures have been blamed on the QB.
- Hurts: 26.7% (2nd-highest)
- Allen: 20.1% (8th-highest)
- Mahomes: 18.9% (11th-highest)
- Burrow: 7% (3rd-lowest)
"…BUT JOE BURROW'S SUPPORTING CAST IS SO MUCH BETTER!"
It may not surprise you to know the Dolphins have PFF's highest team receiving grade. What may surprise you is that the Chiefs rank second in that category. Even with the services of Ja'Marr Chase (out multiple weeks injured), Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd, the Bengals tie for fourth. Philly is seventh; Buffalo is in 10th.
Every one of these top-flight filed generals play some role in those grades. I'd say it's a negligible difference across the board despite how loaded the Bengals receiving corps is on paper.
Burrow is a better dual-threat guy than you think
I'm so tired of everyone saying Joe Burrow isn't that athletic or doesn't have any transcendent traits (uh…football IQ, hello?) — and then the comparison is made to Mahomes and Allen. Yeah no shit. There might be three QBs in NFL history blessed with the physical talent those two have when you combine movement skills and raw throwing ability. Not like Burrow is a BUM in these areas. SHEESH.
Inconvenient truth time: Before his appendix situation, Burrow was hitting 20.8 mph during speed training. Very real.
Joe Brr has found the end zone five times as a ball-carrier this season. That's more than Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray, who've rushed for three TDs apiece. Only Hurts is way ahead of Burrow here with nine rushing scores of his own. But that's such an integral part of Hurts' game, and bails him out from having to make as many tight-window red zone throws.
Joe Burrow has actually gotten unlucky and should have even better numbers
You can get away with turnover-worthy plays in the NFL. Not always. Not more often than not. But sometimes. On the flip side, QBs can make the perfect read and see the ball bounce off a receiver's hands for an interception.
Not only is Joe giving the ball away at a staggeringly low rate, but look at how the rate of his TWP's corresponds to his actual number of stat-sheet gaffes compared to his top MVP competition:
I've said this multiple times: The early part of the Bengals' season consisted of me sitting in silent disbelief about how rough they looked overall. For them to not only progress from there, but to emerge as a truly exceptional offense that evolved on the fly, and saw Burrow play as well as anyone despite being without Ja'Marr Chase for multiple games? Borderline unbelievable stuff.
Beyond all that I just spelled out, Burrow has 17 batted passes this year, much of them coming as a result of the heavy reliance on the quick passing game. Although I'll take that over more QB hits, you have to realize Burrow is a little unlucky there. He only had three BATs his rookie year, and 14 across 20 regular-season and playoff games during Cincinnati's run to the Super Bowl.
Bottom line: Back Burrow for MVP
Joe Scheisty has done more than enough to earn this distinguished honor. When you combine his statistical prowess with the adversity he's faced in 2022, how crazy his efficiency has been and how he got the Bengals and himself off the mat from a potentially dooming start, how does he not get the nod?
Given how tough the Bengals' schedule is the rest of the way, if Burrow keeps playing the way I think he will, he should have head-to-head wins over Tua, Mahomes and Allen to boost his status. What Hurts is doing, for me, is less impressive because of how stacked the Eagles roster is and how much simpler his job is behind such a phenomenal offensive line.
No one is executing the quarterback position at a more complex, sophisticated level than Joe Burrow. Happy 26th my guy. Just keep on winning and making LOL throws like the one below until no truthers remain and the MVP is yours.