- After a miserable first two games of the season, Andy Dalton and the Bengals' offense got somewhat back on track last week against Green Bay. Dalton's line from Week 3 was 21-of-27 (71.8%) for 212 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no turnovers. That’s the type of production he had against Cleveland’s defense a year ago.
- I’ll get to this more in the offensive line section later, but Dalton has been sacked 11 times through 3 games. That might not seem too drastic; last year, Dalton was sacked 12 times in his first 3 games. DeShone Kizer has been sacked 10 times in 3 games. But reading outside the numbers, Dalton and the entire offense are clearly hurting from the departures of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler.
- It hasn’t been a good start to the season for DeShone Kizer, and even though the Bengals are 0-3, don’t form the misconception that they are some terrible defensive team. Kizer has cut down on the number of sacks he’s taking, but his biggest issue the past two weeks has been throwing behind receivers, leading to interceptions. I did like the fact that he ran more last week; that’s an essential part of the offense that was absent the first two weeks.
- The Bengals have a trio of running backs this year after drafting Joe Mixon in the second round. Giovanni Bernard still very much has a role in the offense, and although Jeremy Hill is still getting some touches, he is the guy whose playing time has taken the biggest hit as a result of Mixon’s arrival.
- Through three games, the Bengals have had mixed results on the ground, averaging 3.54 yards per carry as a team. Mixon has 35 carries for 107 yards (3.1 YPC). Hill has 19 carries for 66 yards (3.5 YPC). Bernard has 15 carries for 77 yards (5.1 YPC). None of them have found the end zone via the ground.
- Despite the Browns' improved run defense this year, Cleveland can't take anything for granted. Last year, in 13 games against other teams, Hill had 188 carries for 560 yards (2.97 YPC). In his 2 games against the Browns, he had 34 carries for 279 yards (8.2 YPC). Much of that was inflated by a 74 yard touchdown run, but even if you take that away, he still averaged 6.2 yards per carry against Cleveland.
- Surprisingly, Mixon has more catches than Bernard. Mixon is at 7 catches for 59 yards, while Bernard has 5 catches for 67 yards.
- Duke Johnson has made the most of all his touches, and last week he had over 100 combined rushing+receiving yards to go along with the team's first touchdown of the game. His elusiveness rating is off-the-chart. This isn’t a knock on Isaiah Crowell, but just to spark the offense earlier, Cleveland might consider going up-tempo with Johnson as the lead back.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- Both teams are hurting with their receivers right now, but the Bengals get the clear advantage due to having A.J. Green. Even when the Bengals' offense struggled the first two games, Green had OK production. Last week, he turned it up a notch with 10 catches (on 13 targets) for 111 yards and 1 touchdown. Cleveland has given up outrageous games to Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton already, and Green is just as much of a No. 1 receiver as those guys are.
- The good news for Cleveland is that, much like the Steelers and Colts, the Bengals don’t have many other places to go after Green. First-round pick John Ross is out again as he tries to battle back from a knee injury. Veteran Brandon LaFell starts opposite Green and has 8 catches for 59 yards. Second-year man Tyler Boyd is their slot receiver, but has only managed 2 catches for 22 yards in 2 games. Alex Erickson and Cody Core will see a few snaps here and there to round out the room.
- The biggest news is that tight end Tyler Eifert is out with a back injury. Tyler Kroft takes his place in the starting lineup and has 4 catches for 33 yards.
- You shake your head when thinking about the Browns’ receivers right now. Who do you play if you’re Hue Jackson?
- Your most polished receiver is Kenny Britt, who had a couple of better plays last week but was still involved in two detrimental plays.
- Ricardo Louis, who had a pair of OK games, couldn’t catch the ball to save his life last week.
- Rashard Higgins was great in the slot in Week 2, but Baltimore basically ignored him. When the Colts paid attention to him last week, he under-performed, much like the guy from the past two years. He also had two pass interference penalties against him.
- Sammie Coates still has a hamstring injury, and his whole game is going deep. Forget it about him until he’s healed.
- Kasen Williams and Jordan Leslie offer the most intrigue, but we’re living off of Williams’ solid preseason with Seattle and Leslie’s pair of one-hand stabs in limited action. This week, I think we’ll see Williams and Leslie gain a few reps at Louis’ and Higgins’ expense.
- Cleveland should really be trying some more two-tight-end personnel, leveraging the threat of the running game and the threat of David Njoku and Seth DeValve burning teams up the seams.
- The Bengals’ starting offensive line includes LT Cedric Ogbuehi, LG Clint Boling, C Russell Bodine, a right guard TBD, and RT Jake Fisher. Boling is the only player on the line who has had semi-respectable play.
- We could see more shuffling on the Bengals’ offensive line. T.J. Johnson has been starting for the injured Trey Hopkins at right guard. Hopkins is trying to come back from a knee injury, and although he’s listed as questionable, the impression is that he’ll be rested another week. Last week, Cincinnati decided to rotate veteran Andre Smith in at both right tackle and left tackle.
- If we're going by Pro Football Focus, then the Browns' individual linemen rankings are LT Joe Thomas (89.8), LG Joel Bitonio (83.8), RG Kevin Zeitler (72.5), RT Shon Coleman (68.0), and C J.C. Tretter (55.6). The line play has been improving week-by-week, and one of these games, the contest needs to be defined by this group taking over the game and flat out dominating.
- The Bengals run a 4-3 defense, including DE Carlos Dunlap, DT Pat Sims, DT Geno Atkins, and DE Michael Johnson. Whereas the Colts had an entirely new-look defense in Week 3, this is a group that has been together for awhile now in Cincinnati.
- The top person to watch, as always, is Atkins. Here is what Browns run game coordinator Kirby Wilson had to say about the veteran lineman who is stout against the run and also leads the Bengals with three sacks:
“He is outstanding. He is one of the best at his position not only in the AFC but in the entire National Football League. He is a guy that you have to account for from the moment you step on the field. He plays in all situations. He is an impact player, and he is a one-man wrecking crew. He can disrupt your run game by himself. He is a guy that you have to gameplan week in and week out. This week is no different. We have a plan in place to try to neutralize him, and we will see how it turns out on Sunday.”
- Dunlap is a proven pass rusher, but has been handled fine by Joe Thomas in the past. Michael Johnson isn’t the threat he once was on the other side. The players to actually watch are the guys Cincinnati will rotate in for Dunlap and Johnson, and those are their pair of promising rookie rushers: 3rd round pick Jordan Willis and 4th round pick Carl Lawson. Lawson had a breakout game last week with 2.5 sacks and has been and played in 77% of the snaps, so Cincinnati will be trying to get to DeShone Kizer often if Cleveland deploys a three-receiver set.
- This ranking would be closer to “even” here, but we’re waiting on Myles Garrett to make his debut first and in fairness, Cincinnati has a pretty deep-looking line that can pass rush far better than Cleveland (sans Garrett). Friday evening, Mary Kay Cabot reported that Garrett will likely not play this Sunday, despite being listed as questionable.
- The Browns have been terrible at pressuring the quarterback through three games, and it’s something that probably isn’t being talked about enough (i.e. the relative disappointing start for Emmanuel Ogbah). Garrett can flip the script in a major way, and his pass rush could be what allows the rest of the defense to settle in.
- Caleb Brantley made his debut last week, but one person absent from the injury list this week is T.Y. McGill. I keep harping on this, and maybe it’s pointless, but if the Browns want that interior pass rush, I have to believe he’s going to get the surprise call one of these weeks as a situational player.
- The Bengals' starting linebackers have been including OLB Nick Vigil, MLB Kevin Minter, and OLB Vincent Rey. But the big news is that the team’s best linebacker, Vontaze Burfict, returns from a three-game suspension. Head coach Marvin Lewis said that Burfict will play immediately, but was mum on whether Burfict would receive a full workload. Burfict is ready for whatever is thrown at him:
“Don't know how many snaps I'll get on Sunday,” Burfict said. “I'm not sure if they'll throw me in hot water on Sunday and make me play the whole game, but I'm ready for whatever and whatever can help us win.
- Minter comes over from the Arizona Cardinals and has manned the middle well through three games. Burfict will replace either Vigil or Rey, but all four guys should collectively see enough action.
- It’s hard to get a pulse on the Browns’ starting linebackers, namely Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert since Jamie Collins is out again with a concussion. Kirksey switched to outside linebacker this year, and something just seems a bit off about his game. He’s graded a 41.0 through three games by PFF, while Schobert is graded a 40.0. James Burgess in his limited role has actually graded out to a 73.1, and Gregg Williams talked about his play this week:
“Burgess played very well. I’m glad you asked about that because he played well. He was very attacking. He has very good instincts in zone coverage. When I say that, he feels where the ball is going before it is thrown. I learned a long time ago from Buddy Ryan that you cover the guy where you think it is being thrown to not where the playbook page told you to. Burg has some of that. He played well. He played strong. We will rotate a lot of different packages. We are going to see a lot of three wide receiver packages out of these guys, but they have their multiple tight end packages, too. Burg can play in both of those packages. Like I said, he plays four positions for us, and he played two out of the four last week. He may play more this week. We will see.”
- The Bengals’ starting cornerbacks include Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones, with Darqueze Dennard taking the slot receiver and Josh Shaw also getting a few snaps. Once again, this group, along with Cincinnati’s safeties (George Iloka and Shawn Williams) have been together long enough to have a sense of stability.
- Kirkpatrick is the weak link in Cincinnati’s secondary, historically having a problem being penalized and missing tackles. He also struggled big time against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last week:
- The Browns are still expressing confidence in Jamar Taylor, and I guess they really have no choice. I’d personally be intrigued with letting Briean Boddy-Calhoun play the outside and put Taylor back in the nickel, but Cleveland probably doesn’t want to unsettle the corner position just yet. Jason McCourty has been the team’s best cornerback, but he might be in his sweet spot right now against opposing team’s second receivers.
- At safety, I’d love the Browns to go with the Cover-2 approach they took against the Colts in the second half last week. It mitigates the chances of Jabrill Peppers having to come too far to make an open field tackle, and is probably safe enough to beat a team like Cincinnati that really only has one threatening weapon this week. But I don’t think Gregg Williams will budge on his defensive philosophy -- he’ll believe that every week is a new week.
- Randy Bullock is the Bengals' kicker, as they decided not to go with rookie 5th rounder Jake Elliott (who kicked a game-winning 61-yarder for the Eagles last week). The veteran Bullock has been fine, though -- he's 4-of-5 on field goals and 3-of-3 on extra points. Zane Gonzalez has had limited opportunities, but has been great on kickoffs (which we’ll talk about on Saturday).
- Kevin Huber is the Bengals' punter, and is around the middle of the NFL with a 40.8 net average on punts. Britton Colquitt is a few pegs higher with a 43.0 net average. Cincinnati has allowed the most return punt attempts (11) in the NFL, so Jabrill Peppers might get a few opportunities this week.
- WR Alex Erickson handles kickoff and punt returns for the Bengals. He has a 26-yard punt return. CB Adam Jones also returns punts if the team needs a big return. One of his two attempts went for a 33-yard return. Jabrill Peppers has only been able to attempt 5 returns in 3 games, showing frustration as opposing teams direct kicks to the sideline.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “‘Why do I put myself through this endless cycle of blind optimism?’ is something I often ask myself, including this week. This will be the third straight game in which I’ve picked the Browns to win, but the truth is that the team’s stock has been going down for a couple of weeks.
The Browns’ biggest issues the first three weeks have been turnovers, and the momentary lapses on defense, usually in the second quarter, that lead to big plays. If it’s one week, it’s easy to chalk it up as, ‘things happen.’ When it consistently happens, you can’t just snap your fingers and reduce those problems to nothing...or can we? Myles Garrett could be that secret ingredient who comes in to be the difference-maker we talked him up to be all preseason. If the team can’t rely on that, I still think the defense plays better and Cleveland has a few things go their way this week.” Browns 20, Bengals 17.
Andrea Hangst: “Though it's been an 0-3 start for the Browns, the Bengals' zero wins seem like a bigger all around indictment of the state of the team. Plus, the Browns have been competitive. A home field and a bad opponent are just what the Browns need this week, leading to a palate cleansing win. Just beware Vontaze Burfict; he's guaranteed to impact this game no matter what.” Browns 19, Bengals 7.
Matt Wood: “Browns get a boost as Myles Garrett plays which gives the Browns a pass rush. The new found pressure turns Andy Dalton into bad Andy and the Browns capitalize into a few turnovers. Offense does enough as Browns get the win.” Browns 24, Bengals 14.
Josh Finney: “Prediction: I will be yelling the following things at my tv, in no particular order until the end:
“CATCH THE BALL YOU SHIT RECEIVERS”
“Njoku’s experience really hurt him on that route”
“Wonder who’s fault that was, Kizer or the line for failing to identify that rusher”
“Ya gonna run the ball this quarter, Hue?”
“Good lord that was a bad angle from the safety”
“Gonna need the coaches tape to see if anyone was open there”
“I guess we’re seeing some improvements, here....on some level. Just not there yet”” Bengals 27, Browns 17.
rufio: “Browns win a close one, finally. The offense makes enough plays to overcome mistakes (Kizer continues to hold the ball too long or have miscommunications with his receivers, penalties take us out of running situations). The defense is bolstered by Myles returning and doesn't have to send 5-6 to create pressure. AJ Green is still AJ Green and goes for 150 and 2 TDs, but the rest of the Bengals look bad. The story of the game is our upper hand on the lines: our OL continues to gel and limits the effectiveness of Geno Atkins and company, while Garrett is in Cincy's backfield all day.”
Ezweav: “Overall, the team takes several small steps forward but still makes its share of mistakes (missed blocks on screens, jumping offside on 4th down, somebody drops a pass that would have been a big gainer, dropped INT/missed fumble-scoop that would have resulted in a TD, etc.) However they for the most part hang tough with the 'Natty, and show improvements in areas where they have struggled to this point, which will be offset by showing brand new, unexpected struggles. Thus, somebody screws up late and the Bengals get out with a close win.” Bengals 20, Browns 19.
apocrylle: “The return of Myles Garrett allows the Browns to find rhythm again on defense and hold the Bengals to 20 points as Dalton is pressured enough to remain off balance. The offense delivers several big plays but Kizer turns the ball over twice in the red zone which limits the Browns offensive output and leaves us down 20-16 with just under two minutes to score a game winning touchdown. Kizer ultimately delivers when it counts to Kenny Britt on a quick slant with only seconds left on the clock.” Browns 23, Bengals 20.
Robo Dawg: “The Browns have been their own worst enemy this season, and while improving, the trend continues this week against the Bengals. The return of Myles Garrett makes Dalton speed up his internal clock, but AJ Green out-classes our inconsistent secondary. Kizer continues to improve his pocket awareness, and manages to keep the sack number low. Unfortunately, our WR corps still have not applied sticky glue to their gloves and drops continue to plague our offense. We have a chance to win late, but a red zone interception clinches it for Cincinnati.” Bengals 24, Browns 17.
Dan Lalich: “Myles Garrett helps take the Browns defense to the next level, and Bad Andy shows up for the Bengals. On the other side of the ball, the Browns continue to struggle with the ground game, and the makeshift receiving core still can't get on the same page with Kizer. Thanks to some big plays from the defense and special teams, the Browns end up on top.” Browns 11, Bengals 5.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.
Who do you think will win, Browns or Bengals? Pick the one closest to your prediction.
This poll is closed
Browns by 7+
Browns by 3
Bengals by 3
Bengals by 7+