Tonight, the Cleveland Browns take on the Cincinnati Bengals in prime time for Thursday Night Football! Who will win the first Battle of Ohio in 2020? Our game analysis and predictions are below.
Putting Into Perspective
- When I look at today’s match-up, I think back to Week 1. It still baffles my mind that the Browns were only able to score six points on offense against the Ravens. I can live with the fact that we lost to a much better Ravens team, but that six points really bothers me. It was the fewest in the NFL to start the season. The Browns have an offensive line that could be Top 5 in the NFL. They have two of the best running backs in the NFL. They have two No. 1 receivers. They have some good receiving tight ends. What gives?
- It definitely comes down to the play of the quarterback at this point. Plain and simple, Baker Mayfield has to be better. I am not one of the people looking to question his future at this point, but I damn sure can say that he needs to be better, and I think he knows that too. If he doesn’t improve, then eventually, the excuses I make for his struggles will turn into, “Hey, maybe this guy isn’t the answer.”
- There are ways to mitigate Mayfield’s issues, to give him a better chance to win, and that’s where Kevin Stefanski has to do a better job as well. There has to be a better commitment to the running game, and the playcalling for Mayfield should either be to get the ball out quick, or have a downfield read off of a playaction pass. Simplify things for Mayfield, let him re-gain that swagger, and then start to build as the offense gets better.
- As I’ve said before, I do think that a lot of Cleveland’s weaknesses were brought to the forefront in Week 1 because of the opponent we were facing. Give us anyone but Baltimore or Kansas City, PLEASE! But no, it had to be the Ravens, and they exposed all of our flaws. But I also feel like the perception from around the league that Cleveland sucks now is a wrong one. The Browns can do some fantastic things on offense, and we’ll see about the defense. That doesn’t have to wait until midseason to get into a groove — I think it can start tonight against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Mismatch Opportunity - Bengals’ Offensive Line
- Cincinnati’s offensive line is really bad, and it’s one of the reasons that rookie Joe Burrow couldn’t get off to a faster start in Week 1. One of the culprits to the line’s poor play, as attested to be our Bengals affiliate, is right tackle Bobby Hart. That is particularly relevant this week, because after struggling mightily against Joey Bosa in Week 1, he could see Myles Garrett in Week 2. Garrett lined up as the left defensive end against Baltimore — is it a position change for him, or was it a strategic move to slow down Lamar Jackson’s scrambling ability? Either way, Garrett has to eat the Bengals alive today.
If the Browns line up Myles Garrett mostly on the left side of the defensive line today, I have no idea how Bobby Hart makes it through the game.— Moo (@PFF_Moo) September 17, 2020
- The Bengals also placed starting RG Xavier Su’a-Filo on injured reserve after adding him in the offseason to help improve the line. Billy Price, a first-round pick in 2018, will jump back into the starting lineup, but he has been viewed as a massive disappointment since being drafted — another major liability on the Bengals’ line this week.
- Not only does it impact Burrow’s ability to get comfortable, it has hurt the running game for years. Joe Mixon is a good running back, and some of his season numbers over the years look pretty good, but they would be so much better with an average offensive line. Given Cleveland’s ability to defend the run in Week 1, combined with the potential for them to generate much more pressure this week, this should be a big mismatch for Cleveland to take advantage of.
Mismatch Opportunity - Browns’ Running Game
- Cincinnati’s defensive line depth is suffering for tonight. Geno Atkins had made an impressive 96 straight appearances, but missed Week 1 due to a shoulder injury. He is also out against the Browns, and now his backup, Mike Daniels, is also out to injury.
- The Chargers’ running backs averaged 4.64 YPC against the Bengals’ defense last week, and if both of the Browns’ offensive tackles are able to go tonight (or even just one of them), then I’m really optimistic about Cleveland running the ball all game long. As I said in the introduction, the running game is crucial to setting up the rest of the offense.
Areas of Concern
- The No. 1 thing I’m worried about heading into tonight’s game is Cleveland’s defensive back situation. I still don’t mind Denzel Ward and Terrance Mitchell, but is clear as day that Tavierre Thomas is a liability as the nickel corner, and that Cleveland’s safeties can be beat if the quarterback has time to throw. I would like to see some more of Sheldrick Redwine or Ronnie Harrison at safety today, but if they saw no reps just four days ago, what are the odds of it changing? I worry about the Browns in zone coverage, and A.J. Green crossing the field and getting lost in traffic by the middle of our defense, along with (obviously) the tight ends.
- The other area is special teams — even though it’s not a big concern. This area has the chance to turn into an area of upside. Cleveland’s special teams (aside from kicker) was solid last year, probably better than its been in the past 5 years. But last week was a disaster, despite much of the key special teamers still being around. It hurt the Browns in field position on four or five different drive, and cost the team points. We also have Cody Parkey kicking for Cleveland this week. I’m glad he has some experience in the stadium.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I am bullish on the Browns this week. I will stick to my guns that the Ravens were a terrible match-up for them in Week 1 — an excuse I hate using, but I feel it’s true. I expect Joe Burrow to struggle in his second game, with this being a similar “feel” to the Browns 23-3 win against the Jets in prime time a year ago. Look for Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt to flirt with 100 yards rushing as an individual, and Myles Garrett to impact the game to never quite let Joe Burrow get comfortable.” Browns 27, Bengals 14
Thomas Moore: “The Browns’ home opener is the team’s first nationally televised home opener since 1999, but we probably don’t want to think about that. Cleveland was completely, utterly and wholly non-competitive against the Ravens in Week 1 and need to find themselves fast or risk falling into an 0-2 hole with 10 days off until their next game. Luckily, the schedule makers are sending the Bengals to town, who even on their best day should not be able to hang with the Browns. Cleveland remembers that they have the league’s best running back combo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the defense gives rookie quarterback Joe Burrow a hard lesson about life in the NFL, and the Browns give everyone a little bit of respite for a few days.” Browns 28, Bengals 10
rufio: “The Bengals come out looking good but the new schemes click for the Browns at around halftime. Chubb and Hunt both pop off, and Myles gets a pair of sacks in a Browns win.” Browns 30, Bengals 24
Barry Shuck: “What can one game show? When it comes to these two clubs - plenty. The Browns are 31st in passing, 31st in passing percentage, 29th in passing yards, and dead last in yards per catch average. With the rushing attack? Dead last in rushing touchdowns, and dead last in rushing fumbles. The good news is that the Bengals aren’t quite as bad statistically, but are wedged into the lower third in almost every category on offense. However, their defense is quite stout so far. Cincinnati ranked number one against the pass; which fits the Browns perfectly since this offense can’t get anywhere throwing anyway. The Browns are going to have to unleash the ground game and get Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt going somehow. This offense is built to do just that, and the Bengals so far rank 28th against the run. So, why not run the damn ball? Few touchdowns and plenty of field goal attempts as the loser plummets to 0-2.” Browns 20, Bengals 13
Dan Lalich: “It’s a short week, so while the Bengals defense isn’t as good as the Ravens I’m not expecting the Browns offense to look much more in sync. On the other side of the ball, the Bengals definitely aren’t in the same league as the Ravens, so I expect a much better showing from the Browns defense. Joe Burrow had a very rookie game week 1, and while I think he could be really good long term I don’t expect him to make a leap in four days. He will be facing pressure all day long and that could force him into some mistakes.” Browns 11, Bengals 5
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.