It was a fun night in front of a national television audience and gives the Browns a bit of a breather as they don’t have to spend the next week worrying about an 0-2 start.
Let’s look at the mostly good, with a few not so good aspects, of Thursday night’s game.
The running game: The Browns took advantage of Cincinnati’s porous run defense in a way that should be a blueprint for the rest of the season.
Running backs Nick Chubb (124 yards and 5.6 yards per carry) and Kareem Hunt (86 yards and 8.6 yards per carry) combined for 210 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns as as the Browns imposed their will on the Bengals.
With 124 rushing yards and 2 TDs (and counting) on the day, Nick Chubb has his 8th game of 100+ rush yards since 2019.— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) September 18, 2020
That breaks a tie with Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott (7 apiece) for the most such games in the NFL in that span #TNF
The most heartwarming sequence came in the fourth quarter after a Cincinnati touchdown cut the Browns lead to 28-23. On the ensuring drive, the Browns put together a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that featured nothing but runs by Chubb and Hunt, culminating in a one-yard touchdown run by Hunt.
The defensive line: The Browns were without starting defensive end Olivier Vernon, who was inactive with an abdomen injury, and lost Adrian Clayborn during the game with a hip injury.
The defensive line still made an impact as defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson had a sack, six tackles and two tackles for loss, and defensive end Porter Gustin was active while getting extend playing time.
Browns DL Sheldon Richardson made an impact as a pass rusher and against the run in Week 2:— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 18, 2020
→ 4 pressures, 3 hurries, 1 sack
→ 9.1% pressure rate
→ 4 run tackles on 19 run snaps
→ On-Field: 2.4 rush YPP allowed (Off: 4.4 rush YPP)#CINvsCLE | #Browns
One of the biggest plays of the night, however, when defensive end Myles Garrett had a strip sack of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, with defensive end Joe Jackson recovering the ball on Cincinnati’s one-yard line.
That sequence came after the Browns failed to score despite having a first-and-goal at the one-yard line and helped the Browns regain the momentum.
Denzel Ward in coverage: The Browns had issues in the secondary on Thursday, but cornerback Denzel Ward showed why he is one of the best in the game.
Browns cornerback Denzel Ward forced 8 tight window passes on 11 targets as the nearest defender, the most tight windows forced in a game since 2017.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 18, 2020
Denzel Ward as Nearest Defender
➤ 11 targets, 5 rec allowed, 46 yards, TD
➤ 73% tight window pct#CINvsCLE | #Browns
In addition, according to Next Gen Stats, Ward covered Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green on 16 plays and held Green to two receptions for 14 yards on seven targets.
Baker’s big night: For the first time since maybe his rookie season, Baker Mayfield looked like the type of quarterback the Browns selected with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft.
Mayfield was 16-of-23 for 219 yards and two touchdown passes, but more importantly he completed passes to eight different receivers, something that was commonplace in 2018 but that he lost in 2019.
Mayfield also connected with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on a 43-yard touchdown pass that will certainly quiet everyone done for a while.
Seeing Mayfield spread the ball around and letting the playmakers do their thing, was a welcome sight, as when the Browns offense gets rolling the way it was on Thursday it is a handful for opposing defenses.
The offensive line: The news was not positive prior to the game when it was announced that Chris Hubbard would be taking over at right tackle for Jack Conklin due to injury.
But outside of a couple of penalties on right guard Wyatt Teller, the offensive line was sound as Mayfield was not sacked and the run blocking continually opened holes for Chubb and Hunt.
In addition to Hubbard doing a nice job filling in, left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. showed what he can do in pass blocking:
Jedrick Wills Jr. vs Cincinnati— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 18, 2020
Pass-block snaps: 24
QB pressures: 1
QB sacks: 0 pic.twitter.com/NqKeLGdYgh
The uniforms: The Browns used the nationally televised game to bring back their orange pants, which paired with the browns jerseys are simply glorious.
Dress like a real NFL team and good things happen.
Defensive back 7: This one comes with a caveat, but the linebackers and secondary - outside of Ward - continue to be a major problem.
Injuries are certainly playing a factor as the defense is without linebackers Mack Wilson and Jacob Phillips, and cornerbacks Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson, due to injuries.
JOE BURROW FIRST NFL PASSING TD— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 18, 2020
But the tackling remains poor, covering tight ends continues to be an issue, and the overall poor play continues to put pressure on the defensive line and the offense to carry the water for the team.
Hopefully a return to health will fix most of the problems, but until that happens the back seven is going to be a problem for the Browns.