The Cleveland Browns defense is one that, more often than not, is getting its lunch money taken away by opposing offenses on Sunday afternoons.
That is unless they are facing this week’s opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.
In one of the NFL’s stranger storylines, the Browns have beaten the Bengals in five consecutive games and in eight of their last nine meetings dating back to the start of the 2018 season. That includes a perfect 4-0 mark against Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow, who while he has eight touchdown passes against the Browns has also thrown four interceptions and taken 17 sacks.
Just as impressively, the Browns have held the Bengals to a combined 29 points in the past two meetings with the Bengals, who average 24.7 points a game with Burrow at quarterback.
One advantage the Browns have is defensive end Myles Garrett, who has sacked Burrow six games and been a general menace to any Cincinnati offensive lineman unfortunate enough to line up across from him.
But Cleveland’s defensive secondary has also been a thorn in Cincinnati’s side as they have intercepted Burrow on the opening drive in each of the past three games - including a 99-yard pick-six from cornerback Denzel Ward the last time the two teams met in Cincinnati.
The fact that the Bengals do not try to hide their intentions on offense may actually be working in Cleveland’s favor, according to safety John Johnson III (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“They like throwing the ball. They don’t hide it. They don’t do a lot of motions. They just line up and say, ‘We are going to beat you.’ I think that is when we are at our best when we can just line up one on one and win your matchup. Like we said, in the past, we have done a good job so we have to keep it up.”
The success that the Browns have found against the Bengals has cornerback Greg Newsome II looking forward to Sunday’s matchup (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“I just think matchup-wise, I feel like our strength and their strength, receiver and DBs. We’re competitors at the end of the day so that’s definitely a fun game. They have guys that can pretty much do everything. They all can run any route. It is definitely tough to go against a team like that, especially with one of the best quarterbacks. It is definitely tough.”
The Browns picked up a much-needed win last week against the Houston Texans, although Houston’s bumbling offense had as much to do with the win as anything. This week the Browns are facing a much more difficult challenge in the Bengals.
But as the past nine games have shown that the Browns have been more than up to the challenge, thanks in large part to the play of their defense.
Which may be the most surprising thing of all.