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Bengals vs Browns: Scouting the Cincinnati Bengals with our Q&A with Cincy Jungle

We ask about the Bengals’ lack of production from draft picks, the team’s slow start to the season, and more.

NFL: NOV 07 Browns at Bengals Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This Monday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Cincinnati Bengals. To help preview a few topics from the Bengals’ perspective, we reached out to Anthony Cosenza from Cincy Jungle and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 3-point underdogs against the Bengals.

NFL: APR 28 2022 Draft Photo by Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Chris: “The Bengals drafted S Daxton Hill in the first round, CB Cam Taylor-Britt in the second round, and DT Zachary Carter in the third round. None of them seem to be appearing on the stat sheet very much, so what’s happened to the Bengals’ defensive-heavy draft?”

Anthony: “Fortunately, when you make it to the Super Bowl and have been in a rebuilding effort for the previous three seasons, the fourth draft in a coaching regime is more about depth and the future. While it's not sexy, it's an enviable position to be in to have your first, second and third-round selections be depth and developmental pieces.

For Hill, we thought he'd be getting a little more time as a backup "chess piece" in Lou Anarumo's defense, playing a little slot corner, a third safety and/or "rover"-type of role. It hasn't really happened much, but we have seen him show some nice range at times, including the game-deciding incompletion against the Saints. He's backing up Jessie Bates though, so there isn't much of an opportunity for him this year.

Taylor-Britt started the season on I.R. with a core injury he sustained in the preseason. He just got back and hadn't seen much time until, oddly enough, last week. With the Bengals having a comfortable lead against the Falcons and Eli Apple allowing a deep touchdown pass, Taylor-Britt saw the most action of the year last week. I'd expect to see more of him in the coming weeks, though not necessarily as supplanting Apple as the starter on the boundary. That'll probably be the case in 2023.

Carter has developed into a nice rotational piece on the defensive line. Unfortunately for the Bengals, he's been pressed into more action recently because of injuries to interior linemen D.J. Reader and Josh Tupou (both out this week). However, Carter has answered the bell with some nice plays the past couple of weeks along with other backup-turned-starter, Jay Tufele.

The future is bright for all three of these guys, but it's just that the defense has largely been in a great position to not need to lean on them early in their careers.”

Atlanta Falcons v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Chris: “The Bengals seemed to get off to a slow start to the season, but have picked things up — what was the team’s struggles to kick off the season?”

Anthony: “In the opener, Joe Burrow and the offense just didn’t play well at all. The protection on that revamped line wasn’t there and Burrow committed five turnovers to a feasting Steelers defense. Cincinnati also lost its long snapper in that game, causing them to miss two game-winning kicks (an extra point and field goal). Against Dallas, the Cowboys showed a lot of that two-deep-safety look taking away the Bengals’ ability to pop the big play and that carried over to the loss to the Ravens as well.

Additionally, throughout this year, the Bengals’ run game has been largely woeful. They kept beating their heads against the wall with outside zone runs that just weren’t working and it kept putting Cincinnati’s offense in big holes on early downs in drives.

But, in that Week 3 Jets game, Cincinnati gained some confidence, as the Jets used a lot of single-safety looks. And, in that contest, Cincinnati started to adjust on offense, exercising more patience and utilizing Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins for short and intermediate routes early. This helped the Bengals create a rhythm, gain some confidence and churn out points.

More recently, we’re seeing far more shotgun empty sets, wherein Burrow can survey the field pre-snap, see what he likes and go from there. The run game has operated more out of RPO formations and it has netted more positive plays there, with bigger plays to Ja’Marr Chase coming more frequently.

The defense has done their job this year, though. Cincinnati’s three losses were by a combined eight points and none of those teams scored more than 20 points in the game. Additionally, the Bengals’ defense is the third team in the modern era to disallow a second-half touchdown this year.”

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Chris: “What is the strength and weakness of Cincinnati’s offensive line?”

Anthony: “The good news for the Bengals is that this line and its four new starters are seemingly starting to gel. The sacks and hits have decreased greatly and the mish-mash of guys who hadn’t ever played together are showing more cohesion.

In my opinion, the strength is just the talent and mentality on the line. Offensive line coach Frank Pollack said he was looking for “glass-eaters” this offseason and he found a bunch of guys who are just that. Ted Karras has arguably been the best on the line at center, with Alex Cappa finally steadying the right guard spot, which has been an Achilles Heel for the Bengals for a long time. Left tackle Jonah Williams is admirably playing through a knee ligament sprain and dislocated his knee cap a few weeks ago against the Ravens.

In terms of weaknesses, oddly enough, Pollack has traditionally liked outside zone concepts and this new group of guys he’s recruited and drafted haven’t fared well in that scheme. The inside, one-cut-and-go runs have done much better, as they’ve transitioned to that look.

La’el Collins has massive pendulum swings of performances, ranging from utterly dominant to problematic—both because that’s who he is and because he’s dealing with a lingering back issue, coupled with an ankle injury from last week. Teams with good defensive lines like the Browns will get to Burrow, even with the uptick in performance because this line still has flaws and Burrow’s brand of “backyard football” wherein he’ll adlib. ”

NFL: OCT 23 Falcons at Bengals Photo by Jeff Moreland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Chris: “Tell us about one player who Browns fans may not have heard of, but who could have an impact on this Sunday’s game.”

Anthony: “I said his name earlier, but Jay Tufele on the defensive line is a name that will likely be mentioned a lot this Monday night. Because of the injuries to Reader and Tupou, Tufele (a final cuts waiver wire pickup from the Jaguars and 2021 fourth-round pick) has stepped in and played well.

Against the run-heavy Saints and Falcons, Tufele has had 12 total tackles and three of them for a loss. He’s really active and moves well laterally across a line to track a ball-carrier and make a play. He also may surprise some people with a little bit of pass-rush ability, given his size and the role they’ve asked him to fill.”

Chris: “The Browns had a clean sweep of the Bengals last year and are at home this week, yet the Bengals are favorites to beat the Browns on Monday (Browns +6.5 as of this question, per DraftKings Sportsbook). Who would you pick against the spread?”

Anthony: “Before Thursday afternoon, I would have picked the Bengals to win and cover the spread, based on where both teams are trending. But, with the Chase injury news, this game gets much more tenuous. Cincinnati hasn’t won a Monday Night Football road game since 1990 when Boomer Esiason beat Bernie Kosar in Cleveland. The line has now moved from 6.5 earlier in the week to the Bengals being now just a three-point favorite, per DraftKings.

To boot, for whatever reason, even the best of Zac Taylor’s teams match up poorly against the Browns. Marvin Lewis’ big claim to fame was a great record against Cleveland, but Taylor can’t boast the same.

Part of the reason Cleveland has taken it to the Bengals recently (aside from last year’s Week 18 resting of Cincinnati’s starters) is in the emotion and “backs-against-the-wall” status of the Browns going into a lot of these games. However, that was with Baker Mayfield channeling that passion and we’re now talking about Jacoby Brissett getting Cleveland out of its funk.

Because of the injuries, I’ll predict a Bengals win in extremely ugly fashion, wherein they don’t cover even that new spread. If Cleveland does pull off the win, it will likely be in the one-possession, final-play-of-the-game fashion that has been the storyline of Cincinnati’s other three losses.”

Thanks again to Anthony for taking the time to answer my questions.