On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
- Andy Dalton helped the Bengals pick up their first win of the season last week, but I was surprised to remember that he actually started the first 8 games of the year before giving way to Ryan Finley for just 3 weeks. Dalton’s performance will be much like we saw from Ryan Fitzpatrick two weeks ago: the veteran can still sling it and will rack up yardage, but the mistakes are waiting to happen in this offense needing more weapons.
- Baker Mayfield’s hand appears to be good, and he’ll have good weather to throw in back at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mayfield feasted on the Bengals’ defense as a rookie, throwing 7 touchdowns to 0 interceptions against them in 2 games. It will be very discouraging if the offense can’t produce like it did a year ago against the Bengals, at a time when the team was very motivated to stick it to former head coach Hue Jackson.
- Joe Mixon has been the top running back for the Bengals. He has 183 carries for 643 yards (3.5 YPC) and 2 touchdowns. There have been four games this season in which he has finished a game with 1.7 YPC or less. He’s been better over his past 5 games, averaging 3.92 YPC during that stretch. Giovani Bernard used to be a bigger part of the Bengals’ offense. But Mixon, who has 26 catches for 190 yards (and 3 more touchdowns), actually has slightly higher stats in the receiving game than Bernard.
- Nick Chubb leads the NFL in rushing three quarters of the way through the season. The Bengals rank dead last in the NFL in allowing 157.6 rushing yards per game, and are 29th in allowing 4.89 yards per carry. They’ve also yielded some success to running backs catching the ball. Chubb and Kareem Hunt were kept relatively quiet last week, but the tandem should combine for another big day against Cincy.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- Tyler Boyd is the Bengals’ top receiver, logging 68 catches for 758 yards and 3 touchdowns. Auden Tate, a seventh-round pick in 2018, has been the team’s next leading receiver with 39 catches for 559 yards and 1 touchdown.
- The big news for Cincinnati is that John Ross will make his return for the Bengals. He played the first four games of the season before suffering a chest injury. In his first two games, he caught 11 passes for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns. With how Cleveland’s cornerbacks have struggled turning around for the deep ball, I’d expect Dalton to launch a few to Ross. Tyler Eifert is not as involved in the offense as he was in years past when he was healthy — he has 30 catches for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns.
- Can Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry reproduce the type of magic they had two weeks ago against the Dolphins? This week also sees the return of David Njoku; it’s crazy to think back and remember that he got hurt early in the Week 2 game. He had 2 touchdown catches against the Bengals last year, and although he’ll be amped up, one still has to remember in the back of their mind that he’s had some hands issues.
- The Bengals’ starting offensive line features LT Cordy Glenn, LG Michael Jordan, C Trey Hopkins, RG John Miller, and RT Bobby Hart. Jordan, a fourth round pick, has been in and out of the starting lineup, but hasn’t been good. Smith has had a poor season as well, and the line overall is below average, making it tough for the running game to be established or the quarterback to get comfortable.
- Cleveland’s offensive line could see some changes this week. Greg Robinson is back from his concussion to start at left guard. JC Tretter and Chris Hubbard are dealing with knee injuries, and the latest word is that Tretter thinks he’ll play, while Hubbard thinks he’ll be a game-time decision. If Hubbard can’t play, then Kendall Lamm will get the start — something that fans have been wanting to see, but more so because of Hubbard’s play.
Defensive Line / Linebacker
- The Bengals run a 3-4 defense, with DE Carlos Dunlap, NT Andrew Billings, DT Geno Atkins, and DE Sam Hubbard, with DE Carl Lawson also getting a lot of reps. That unit has combined for 18 sacks, and Dunlap is coming off of a huge week in particular in which he had 3 sacks. It’s a defensive line that isn’t what it once was in terms of domination, including Adkins, but it’s a group that can’t be taken lightly in the pass-rushing department.
- Defensively, there are still plenty of issues stopping the run. Nick Vigil and Germaine Pratt are the Bengals’ linebackers. Our Bengals affiliate pointed out that Vigil, in one-on-one coverage with space, has been a big weakness. One would think that Cleveland can find a way to get Chubb or Hunt in space against him.
- Olivier Vernon was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, and didn’t practice on Friday. Given the way he limped off against Pittsburgh, I’d bet that he’s going to be inactive, with several more weeks to recover in case he’s needed against the Ravens. Cleveland will be thin again in that department, but Cincinnati’s line being below average should neutralize matters, presenting some opportunities for Joe Schobert and Mack Wilson to have a big day.
- The Bengals’ two starting cornerbacks are B.W. Webb and William Jackson, with Darqueze Dennard being the nickelback. Cincinnati’s starting safeties are Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates. The Bengals are 21st in passing yards allowed, but the worst in the NFL in yards per pass allowed. Considering Cincinnati’s run defense, that means teams run the ball a lot, and although they don’t pass as much, when they do, they are able to pick up chunks of yards.
- Damarious Randall will be back in the starting lineup this week, but it’s really the starting cornerbacks who need to snap out of their funk. Opposing quarterbacks have seen plain as day that the corners are not recognizing the ball in air, making it worth the shot for them to take — it’s like there is no consequence if they lob it up with air under it. Hopefully we see some improvement this week.
- Randy Bullock is the Bengals’ kicker. He is 17-of-21 on field goals this year and 18-of-18 on extra points. There will be 18 MPH for the Browns game, so it should be tough for both Bullock and Austin Seibert to kick into the Dawg Pound end. Both coaches should consider going for it or punting in that direction.
- Kevin Huber is the Bengals’ punter. He is 26th in the NFL with an average of 44.6 yards per punt, and 14th in the NFL with a net average of 41.8 yards per punt. Jamie Gillan had his first punt (I believe) downed at the 1 yard line last week, even though it was a bit questionable.
- Brandon Wilson is the Bengals’ kick returner; he has a 92-yard kick return this season for a touchdown. Alex Erickson returns punts; he’s attempted 19 returns, with a long of 15 yards. Not many teams have an edge in the return game these days.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “Cleveland will be bolstered offensively with the return of their starting left tackle (Greg Robinson) and tight end David Njoku. Cleveland got off to a great start against the Dolphins in their last home game two weeks ago (28-0), and I expect that same type of hot start from the offense as they beat up on another porous defense (albeit one that has played much better over the past three weeks). While the loss to Pittsburgh was a gut punch and the season has been frustrating, these players aren’t the ones to “mail it in” -- they are going to be starving to pad their stats against Cincinnati, and to also maintain their slim playoff hopes (which stand at about 5%).” Browns 31, Bengals 20.
BigTownBrown: “With the second to last home game of the season the Browns will play host to the one win Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday at FES. The Bengals are on a one game win streak and the Browns are coming off a heartbreaking loss from last week.
Baker Mayfield may not play this Sunday( or play much) with 89 broken bones in this throwing hand( he also had to get part of his rib cage removed on Monday). Freddie kitchens in on the hot seat( well not the actual hot seat, just the hot seat that a bunch of fans have him sitting on) and desperately needs to win( or is it get OBJ the ball more...) to keep the job that so many people are knocking on the door to get.
Andie Dudton is back in action and he actually has beaten the Browns a few times before. MehField is a lustrous 1-0 vs the Natti and has a combined record of 5-3 vs AFCN. Look for that to improve this Sunday as Kitchens keeps his job (you know he’s not going anywhere right...?) and the Browns beat the Bungals.” Browns 34, Bengals 6.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.