- Andy Dalton has thrown 8 touchdown passes to 0 interceptions against AFC North teams this year. In the past two games without A.J. Green, though, Dalton is only averaging 182 yards passing per game, a steep drop from his average of 263 passing yards prior to that. For the season, Dalton’s adjusted completion percentage is one of the league’s worst. I’ve often said that without Green, he’s just a very average quarterback.
Andy Dalton ranks 26th (of 29) in PFF's adjusted completion percentage (72.8%).— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) November 23, 2018
Only QBs below him are Trubisky, Rosen and Darnold.
Best in the NFL: Brees (83.3), Carr (80.2), Cousins (80.1), Mahomes (79.8) and Ryan (79.7).
- Baker Mayfield has turned it on his past four games, particularly before the bye when he was “feelin’ dangerous’ en route to completing 85% of his passes for a season-high 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He has a chance to continue growing his legend this week by getting the Browns’ first road win. Mayfield’s success has been improved with increased usage of his running backs in the passing game, and Cincinnati’s linebackers just happen to be awful in that department.
Last time we saw Baker Mayfield, it was maybe his best outing in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/0FW0Zl62UG— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) November 21, 2018
- Mayfield wasn’t the only rookie to head into the bye week strong; Nick Chubb made an impression with his breakaway speed and 176 yards against the Falcons. The team also threw to him a season-high 3 times, and catching the ball didn’t seem to be a problem. Chubb now faces a Bengals defense that allows a league-high 153.8 yards rushing and 4.99 yards per carry each game. The Browns get the edge for Duke Johnson’s higher productivity and utilization than any back on Cincinnati’s roster from a receiving perspective.
- It has been an effective year for Joe Mixon except for last week’s game, where he was held to 12 carries for 14 yards (1.2 YPC). On the season, he’s averaging 4.6 YPC with 5 touchdowns. Mixon has added 24 catches for 177 yards. Giovani Bernard has missed four games to injury, but in his other 6 games, the highest amount of receiving yards he’s had in a single game is 30.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- The Bengals will be without star receiver A.J. Green for the third straight week, and Browns FS Damarious Randall feels great about that:
- Who picks up the slack for Cincinnati? Tyler Boyd has done a very respectable job for the Bengals this year, catching 56 passes for 756 yards and 5 touchdowns. However, without Green, Boyd is the only receiving threat Cincinnati features. Speedster John Ross has just 11 catches for 145 yards on the year, although he does have 4 touchdowns. Tight end Tyler Eifert is on injured reserve. Tight end C.J. Uzomah has caught 23 passes for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns.
- Despite the Bengals’ thinness at receiver, Cleveland still needs to show more from their unit. Jarvis Landry has 57 catches for 600 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year, but hasn’t had one of those “big” games for awhile when I expect one each week. But the most important thing against Atlanta (before the bye) was everyone did their job when independently called upon. Antonio Callaway caught his passes; Rashard Higgins improvised with Mayfield for a touchdown; Breshad Perriman is picking up steam in the offense.
- The Bengals’ offensive line includes LT Cordy Glenn, LG Clint Boling, C Billy Price, RG Alex Redmond, and RT Bobby Hart. Per Pro Football Focus, it is the 25th-ranked offensive line in the NFL. Glenn and Boling are pretty solid on the left side, although Glenn is questionable this week to suit up. Hard and Redmond on the right side are the weak links, but as our Bengals affiliate pointed out, signs of the entire line crumbling are starting to show as the losing piles up.
- The Browns, perhaps surprisingly, have shot up to the 7th-ranked offensive line in PFF’s rankings, which is part of the reason Mayfield was able to have the success he did against Atlanta. The team is still taking the left tackle situation week-to-week between Greg Robinson and Desmond Harrison, but all signs point to Robinson getting the start this weekend. The run blocking and pass protection have just seemed to click more since Hue Jackson’s departure, but I think it’s an impact of smarter playcalling from Freddie Kitchens vs. Todd Haley.
- The Bengals run a 4-3 defense. Their starting defensive line includes DE Carlos Dunlap, DT Andrew Billings, DT Geno Atkins, and DE Michael Johnson. Atkins manages to stay among the league leaders in pressures, and has tallied 7 sacks on the year. Carlos Dunlap still provides good pressure with his 7 sacks. Billings, a 4th round pick from 2016, starts alongside Atkins at defensive tackle. Johnson doesn’t impact the game anywhere like he used to; he has just 0.5 and 2 hits on the quarterback all season.
- Myles Garrett had his quietest day of the season against the Falcons, and will no doubt be looking to make a splash with the extra week to rest. He leads the Browns with 9 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Prior to the bye, we finally saw the team lower the snap counts of Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi to keep them fresher, while backups Brian Price and Anthony Zettel saw more snaps. That’s a formula I’d love the team to continue for these final six games.
- The Bengals’ starting linebacker situation is a mess due to injuries. Undrafted free agent (2017) Hardy Nickerson is now in the starting lineup and Vontaze Burfict starts too. Our Bengals affiliate tells you all you need to know about this group:
“Even before injuries the Bengals linebacking group just can’t compete in today’s NFL. They are the worst coverage linebackers you will see on Sunday, and every team that has obliterated Cincinnati has taken advantage of that weakness. The Bengals most athletic linebacker is rookie Malik Jefferson, who has barely even seen any defensive snaps. People defend this due to his lack of experience, but at this point it literally can’t get any worse.”
- Joe Schobert returned just before the bye and was locked in against the Falcons. His defensive presence in the middle is something I underrated when he went out, and he covers up the absence of Christian Kirksey too. Jamie Collins even had one of his better games before the bye, and I like what Tanner Vallejo is doing in a reserve role. The Browns don’t blow teams out of the water at linebacker, but their advantage here is a testament to Cincinnati’s issues.
The top linebackers in the NFL so far this season. pic.twitter.com/F2TxSlti8C— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 21, 2018
- The Bengals’ starting cornerbacks are normally Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson. Kirkpatrick suffered an injury last week though and is doubtful. Darqueze Dennard figures to take over an outside spot, with Tony McRae or Darius Phillips then filling in at nickel. Phillips, a 5th round pick this year, hasn’t played much. McRae, a former undrafted free agent, has 14 career tackles. Cleveland should have an advantage with the shifting in the secondary.
- The Bengals’ safeties are SS Shawn Williams and FS Jessie Bates. Bates, a 2nd round pick, has been a bright spot in the Bengals defense. He leads the team with 80 tackles and has 3 interceptions, while Williams has added 4 interceptions. Safety is probably the most solid unit on the Bengals.
- With the Bengals’ lack of offensive weapons this week, it’s no wonder the defensive backs feel confident in their ability to play tight to the vest. T.J. Carrie had his best game of the year before the bye and will be counted on for a few more weeks until Terrance Mitchell returns. Denzel Ward figures to draw the assignment of Tyler Boyd, though, and the Bengals don’t feature other receivers who would be a threat to Carrie. You can bet that Damarious Randall is a marked man, though, so he had better deliver on his statement!
- Randy Bullock is the Bengals’ kicker. Bullock is 9-of-12 (75%) on field goals this year with a long of 51 yards, and he has made 31-of-32 (96.9%) of his extra points. Greg Joseph didn’t have any field goal attempts before the bye, but he was 4-of-4 on extra points; and the week before that, he made a career-long 51-yard attempt. Bullock gets the edge here because of his longer career.
- Britton Colquitt’s season continues to improve. He is now 15th in the NFL in average (45.0) but 30th in net average (38.0) as those early-season returns against him still loom large. Kevin Huber of the Bengals is a shade lower on average (43.5) but higher on net average (38.6).
- Alex Erickson is the Bengals’ kickoff and punt returner. He’s not a bad option in either area. Dontrell Hilliard figures to continue taking kickoffs for the Browns, with Jabrill Peppers taking punts.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “This game is about where teams are trending. Cincinnati has lost four or five games. The Browns have played better since firing Hue Jackson, and I think the locker room will be fired up to beat any team he is affiliated with. The Bengals being without Green hurts their offense, and Cleveland’s running game and crispness from Mayfield should continue to end their long road losing streak.” Browns 31, Bengals 17.
Mike Hoag: “Battle of Ohio. Don’t tell the Browns, but they are 1.5 games out of the wildcard, and they basically need to win every, or nearly all of their remaining games to make the playoffs. Playoffs?! Playoffs?! Not sure that they can manage that this season, but it would be a great story. They keep hope alive with a narrow win in Cincitucky.” Browns 30, Bengals 27.
Thomas Moore: “Cleveland takes out two-plus years of frustration on Hue and seven years of frustration on the Bengals.” Browns 36, Bengals 3.
rufio: “Browns offense looks efficient again, Gregg easily confuses Dalton into a few turnovers, and the Browns win. Cleveland integrates 4 verticals into the gameplan just for Hue, only they tag routes and add in a few sight adjustments so that it actually works. But we still see a healthy diet of runs that look like one another and WCO/Air Raid dropback passes where the ball comes out quick.” Browns 28, Bengals 20.
Ezweav: “The Curse is feeling pretty miffed after that Atlanta performance, and in looking at what the Bengals put up against the Saints (and then again last week against Baltimore) this legitimately looks like a good matchup for us. Throw in that this is a team now being guided in a substantial way by Hue Jackson and it’s going to take some odd circumstances for us to blow this, which we’ll find a way to do. However it won’t be as predictable, but still dumbfounding. We’ll dominate on both sides of the ball yet still only have like a five point lead late. Cincy will take the lead late on some amazing catches by their AJ Green-less WR group. Baker will get a shot to win it, and will deliver a perfect pass to [insert literally anyone that would theoretically be involved in our offense] but it will bounce off his hands and into a defending player’s, giving the ‘Natty a steal, appeasing the Curse and causing whoever is calling the game to bemoan Mayfield’s turnovers.” Bengals 23, Browns 21.
Andrea Hangst: “The Browns offense seems to have gotten on track and hit its stride with Hue and Todd out of the picture. The bye week will also be good for them and it doesnt hurt that the Bengals are injury-riddled and will be without AJ Green this week. Cleveland’s defense seems primed to give Andy Dalton a bad time. It all adds up to a Browns win.” Browns 23, Bengals 12.
Matt Woof: “Browns have turned the corner and the Bengals will probably not have AJ Green, smells like a kill shot for the Browns. Mayfield has a monster game and the Browns defense forces three turnovers. Mayfield goes over 300 and has 3 TD’s as the Browns scorch Cincy.” Browns 38, Bengals 13.
Josh Finney: “I have told anyone who will listen that I expect this to be a Browns win, so we’re definitely in for an absolute let down ass whipping.” Browns 24, Bengals 18.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.