The Browns need quite a bit of help since they remain mathematically in the playoff push. One of these situations is the balance of their own schedule and winning out to hopefully close out 9-7-0. First on the agenda was division foe Cincinnati Bengals, the worst club in the league. After a back-and-forth contest, Cleveland prevailed 27-19 to give their Ohio neighbor their 12th straight road loss.
The victory pushes the Browns’ record to 6-7-0 and although they are probably out of any realistic contention to make the playoffs, there does remain a chance. They took care of business with another win and hopefully will end the 2019 season with a positive record.
So, how did the Browns do? They played great at times and then turned the ball over and gave the Bengals numerous chances to remain in the ballgame.
Red Zone And fourth down stops – The story of this game are the two attempts by Cincinnati to go for it on fourth down. Early in the third quarter with the Browns up 21-13, Cincinnati had a very good drive and were faced with a fourth and one at the Browns’ four yard line. Bengals running back Joe Mixon just barely made the first down after an attempted stop by Denzel Ward and Joe Schobert. The result was a first-and-goal from the three. The ensuing play Larry Ojunjobi and Bryan Cox, Jr. sacked Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton. After two incomplete passes, the Bengals settled for a field goal. On their next possession with the Browns’ lead cut to 24-16, the Bengals had a great drive that had consumed 15 plays and used just under eight minutes of clock. They had converted two third downs to continue their drive and after a seven-yard dash by Mixon Cincinnati was in business with a first down on Cleveland’s seven. After two short rushing gains and an incomplete pass, the Bengals went for it on fourth down from the four yard line. Lined up in shotgun with two receivers left and a receiver and two tight ends to the right, from the snapped ball left defensive end Cox, Jr. broke free from tackle Bobby Hart which forced Dalton to take a few steps up into the pocket. Dalton then decided to take it upfield and was met by T.J. Carrie, and then backfield pursuit from Porter Gustin for only a two-yard gain and turnover of downs.
Cornerback Denzel Ward – After playing the worst game of his professional career last week, the Pro Bowl corner was sensational in this contest. He finished with five tackles, two pass defenses and a defensive touchdown which demonstrated to be the difference on the scoreboard. In the first quarter he proved to be in the right spot as he picked off the errant Dalton pass thrown behind receiver Auden Tate and then had a convoy of Browns into the end zone. Two minutes later, he stuck his hand into the catch slated for Tate and knocked the ball down which would have been a huge gain. Ward was the first of two tacklers who stopped Mixon from scoring on the fourth-and-one play. With 7:08 remaining in the third stanza, Mixon popped through a hole with only Ward to beat who tackled him on Cleveland’s 31-yard line. When the Bengals had third-and-goal from the Browns’ 10, it was Ward that broke up the pass to force another Cincinnati field goal.
Kicker Austin Seibert – The rookie had his longest kick of the season when he booted a 53-yarder in the third quarter to increase Cleveland’s lead to 24-16. He also added a 31-yard three pointer on the next possession and was 2-2 on PATs. Seibert’s kickoffs are not going very deep and usually are on the plus side, but his kicking accuracy is amazing.
Pass Protection – Quarterback Baker Mayfield had ample time to throw on most passing downs and was able to see his progressions which allowed large chunks of yardage to be gained. Mayfield was only forced from the pocket three times of which he ran twice for positive yardage including a seven-yard touchdown. He was also only sacked once which came from a stunt from linebacker Carl Lawson early in the game. The interior tandem of center J.C. Tretter, guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller were solid all game.
Defensive tackle Larry Ojunjobi – The Bengals were able to shoot around the ends for most of their long gains, but inside was another matter. Ojunjobi was a force against the run and dominated the center of the defensive front. He finished with a game-high nine tackles and got a half sack on a crucial third down play with Cincinnati in the Red Zone. In the first quarter, he thwarted a screen pass for no gain which forced a field goal inside the 10. Also registered three QB hits. His encroachment penalty in the first quarter helped a Bengals drive that ended with a field goal.
Third down Defense – What a display for the Browns’ defense. The Bengals had 11 third down opportunities and yet only cashed in three. Two stops on third-and-goal eventually sealed the victory.
First half Running game – Going into this game, the Bengals were dead last in rushing defense allowing the most yards per game, the most total yards rushed (season), the most rushing attempts and the most running plays of 20-yards or longer. But yet, Cleveland rushed for only thirty yards on eight rushing attempts in the first half. What? The Browns have one of the best one-two kick ass punches in the league, and yet only used the duo eight times? And get this: two of those rushes were scrambles by quarterback Baker Mayfield including the seven-yard score.
Turnovers – Nothing kills a day at the stadium like handing the ball over to the other team. Two first half interceptions slaughtered otherwise nice drives for the Browns which led to seven points for Cincinnati. The biggest moment in the entire match was with 4:58 remaining in the game and nursing a 24-16 lead. Cleveland had taken over on downs after the Bengals’ long drive that ended in the failed fourth-and-four standoff. On the Browns’ ensuing possession, after running just four plays and facing a third down and five, Mayfield set up in shotgun and fired a pass to which cornerback William Jackson swatted the ball away from Odell Beckham, Jr. and the loose ball found the hands of free safety Jessie Bates. The call would later be overturned on a pass interference call on Jackson, but for several minutes, Cincinnati was back in business with the football on the Browns’ 18-yard line. Whew!
Cornerback Greedy Williams – For most of the game, Williams was one step behind or one angle out of place on tackling ball carriers. Had one holding call and missed several tackles. Allowed a critical third-and-six at the Browns’ 31 to be completed to tight end Tyler Eifert on a strong pass rush.
Covering The dump outlet pass – This killed the Browns all game long. On the Bengals’ second drive, a dump to running back Giovanni Bernard as the last receiver open netted 26-yards. On the ensuing drive, running back Joe Mixon chipped a block then swung out of the backfield for the pass that gained 24-yards. Another Mixon outlet turned a crucial third down into another set of downs to set up a field goal. These guys were wide open for most of the contest.
Milk Bones – itchy and then silky smooth
Running back Nick Chubb – This is the tale of two Nick Chubbs as he gained only seven yards on three carries against the worst rushing defense in the NFL and was completely irrelevant in the first half. We loved “Second half Nick Chubb.” On the Browns’ first possession in the second half and only up 14-13, the entire offensive line had pushed the Bengal defenders to the right when Chubb cut back right off guard Joel Bitonio’s hip. Five Bengals attempted to tackle him including a stiff arm of cornerback Denard Darqueze for a 57-yard gain to the Cincinnati three and would have scored if OBJ had sustained his downfield block. Seven yards on three attempts in the first half - 12 carries for 99 yards in the second half.
Running back Kareem Hunt – Just like Chubb, Hunt was a pedestrian in the first half with a mere three carries for 10 yards although his 29-yard passing completion led to the Mayfield scramble for a touchdown. For whatever reason, the offense found out they still had Hunt on the roster in the second half. Two plays after Chubb reeled off his 57-yard scamper, Hunt found the end zone going around left end after a seal block from tight end Ricky Jones-Seals and another key block from Jarvis Landry.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield – Three interceptions thrown of which two counted just killed the offense in the first half. He had very good protection on passing downs and did some positive things on the rare times he was forced to scramble including the touchdown at the pylon. Mayfield had some very tight windows that gave the Browns some hefty yardage throughout the game. The first interception was the stolen pass taken from David Njoku while each player fell to the ground, a pass that Njoku had cradled and was stripped. On the Browns’ next possession, receivers KhaDarel Hodge and Landry were in the same zone as Mayfield’s pass was too high to which Hodge got a paw on the fireball, then the ball careened towards Bengals’ cornerback B.W. Webb and finally popped up into the waiting arms of the safety Bates. Mayfield had a good afternoon with game management as well.
Safety Sheldrick Redwine – The rookie is getting more playing time and had a tremendous game in pass coverage. His lone blips were a 26-yard completion to running back Giovanni Bernard and a short dump to running back Joe Mixon that ended up 24-yards. He finished with eight tackles.
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry – Yet another solid game. Was targeted just seven times and made only four catches, but he made each one count. This guy is excellent after the catch and has very good hands. When Mayfield needed a key first down he looked for number 80.