The Cleveland Browns head south on Sunday for an important AFC North divisional game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cleveland is coming off a frustrating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that saw the offense score just 10 points — the lowest output since Week 10 of last season. It was also the third consecutive game where the Browns struggled to score points as they have now totaled just 41 points the past three weeks after putting up 42 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
A week after being anointed the darlings of the NFL, the Bengals remembered who they are in losing to a New York Jets team that came into the game with just one win on the season.
Both teams will be desperate for a win to stay on pace in the suddenly competitive division, so here is everything you need to know as the Browns look to get back over .500 for the season.
Records: Cleveland is 4-4. Cincinnati is 5-3.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Stadium: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sidelines)
Radio: 92.3 The Fan (WKRK), ESPN 850 WKNR and WNCX (98.5)
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Doug Dieken, Nathan Zegura (sideline reporter)
Last meeting: The Browns won the last meeting, 37-34, in Week 7 of the 2020 season. (Boxscore)
All-time series: The Bengals lead the all-time regular-season series, 51-44. The Browns have won five of their past six meetings with the Bengals, however.
Weather: 58 degrees and sunny, with a 0 percent chance of rain. (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns will be sporting white jerseys and orange pants.
Battle of Ohio Uni's pic.twitter.com/zweDz2A5Wh— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) November 5, 2021
Injury report: Browns - Questionable: tight end Harrison Bryant (thigh), defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (ankle/knee/hip), defensive end Takkarist McKinley (groin), wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (groin) and cornerback Denzel Ward (hamstring). Out: Offensive tackle Jack Conklin.
Bengals - Questionable: defensive end Cam Sample (knee), wide receiver Auden Tate (thigh) and running back Chris Evans (hamstring).
The line: Browns +2.5
A Few Things to Watch For
The cure to Baker’s ills?: The last time the Browns visited Cincinnati they were coming off a frustrating loss to Pittsburgh and the offense was struggling to find its identity. (Sound familiar?)
That day, quarterback Baker Mayfield threw five touchdown passes to lead the Browns to a win and jumpstart a streak that saw them win seven of their next 10 games to earn a playoff berth.
Cleveland is in a similar situation this year as the offense has struggled the past three weeks to find its way. Mayfield is still dealing with the impact of the injury to his left shoulder, but the Bengals have always brought out the best in Mayfield, who has thrown for 17 touchdowns and posted a quarterback rating of 111.4 in six career games against Cincinnati, five of which have resulted in a Cleveland win.
The Browns need that version of Mayfield to show up, not only this Sunday but for the rest of the season, if they hope to make a return to the playoffs this season.
Keeping Joe Burrow in check: The Browns may have won both games against the Bengals last season, but they had issues with quarterback Joe Burrow, who threw for a combined 722 yards and six touchdowns, against just one interception, in those two games.
Burrow is playing well again this year as he is on pace to throw for more than 4,700 yards and 42 touchdowns. He has thrown nine interceptions and been sacked 20 times, however, so if there was ever a week for the Browns to improve on their embarrassingly low five forced turnovers on the season, this would be a nice week to do that.
Finding some consistency: The Browns opened the season by winning three of their first four games only to then lose three of their next four.
The Bengals have wins over the Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and took the Green Bay Packers to overtime before losing. But they also had to overcome a 14-point deficit to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, and lost to both the Chicago Bears and New York Jets.
Cincinnati is 31st in plays per drive and has the second-highest percentage of three-and-out drives in the league this season, according to ESPN. If the Browns can keep that trend going and wear out Cincinnati’s defense, they can walk off the field Sunday afternoon with a win.
Slow down Ja’Marr: The Browns have had issues with big-time receivers this season as Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill (11 receptions, 197 yards, one touchdown), Los Angeles’ Mike Williams (8-165-2) and Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins (two touchdowns) have had their way with Cleveland’s secondary.
Another test awaits on Sunday in rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who ripped the Baltimore Ravens for 201 yards a few weeks ago and currently leads the league with six receptions of more than 40 yards.
Having cornerback Denzel Ward back on the field will help, as would keeping consistent pressure on Burrow, but the Browns need to keep a tight grip on Chase to limit the type of big plays that have plagued them throughout the season.
A final quote
Head coach Kevin Stefanski (via a team-provided transcript):
“Our guys are pros. They understand in a given week in the NFL there are certain things that are going on, and it is our job to do our job. That is where the focus goes.”
These are just a few things to keep an eye on; now it is time to have your say. What are you looking for from the Browns in Sunday’s game against the Bengals?