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Browns’ defense thrives in rainy conditions to dominate home opener 24-3 in Battle of Ohio vs. Bengals

Cleveland begins the season at 1-0. See all of the highlights here.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Leading up to this week, even up until the game started, there is one thing I never saw coming: a rainy game. It impacted the whole game, with both quarterbacks being far less than sharp. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s defense thrived, en route to an impressive 24-3 victory over Cincinnati. Let’s get to the full game recap.

First Quarter

The Bengals received the opening kickoff and returned it to the 35 field position, as light rain was falling at the stadium. On the first snap, DE Za’Darius Smith came free off the edge and hit QB Joe Burrow as he threw — but Burrow still got enough off for a wobbler out of bounds. Burrow did convert a third down pass to WR JaMarr Chase to move the chains near midfield, but on the next third down, DE Ogbo Okoronkwo took Burrow down for the sack.

Cleveland’s offense went to work at the 14 yard line, starting things off with an inside handoff to RB Nick Chubb for 3 yards. On second down, QB Deshaun Watson tried to hit the home run ball down the seam for WR Amari Cooper, but it was overthrown. On 3rd-and-7, used his legs to run for 12 yards and a first down. The drive was set back on the next play, though, as Watson looked downfield again and was sacked for a loss of 7 yards. A dumpoff to Chubb set up 3rd-and-11, but the pressure came again and he was taken down again. P Corey Bojorquez delivered a booming 66-yard punt that was brought back to the 14-yard line, helping shift field position.

The Browns’ defense responded with a three-and-out, thanks to nice pursuit by the defense, including CB Denzel Ward being right on his man on third down for an incompletion. The punt flipped field position in Cleveland’s favor, with WR Donovan Peoples-Jones getting it to the Browns’ 41 yard line mid-way through the first quarter.

The offense got past midfield on their second drive with a 10-yard screen pass to Chubb, and he followed that up with a 6-yard run. On 2nd-and-4, the Browns ran a trick play that sprung WR Marquise Goodwin wide open deep, but Watson, perhaps with the rainy conditions, couldn’t hit him, so it led to an incompletion. Chubb helped negate the miscue with a 17-yard run, and then on first down, Watson ran it for 5 yards. On 2nd-and-5 from the 21 yard line, Watson dropped the snap, but gathered it and still handed it off to RB Jerome Ford. Ford had an opening for 6 yards, but then fumbled, with the Bengals recovering at the 13 yard line.

Cleveland’s defense responded again to force a three-and-out, with S Grant Delpit making the tackle on third down. The Browns started with slightly better field position than last time after the punt, out to their own 42 yard line. The pass connection to Chubb was a good first quarter formula, as the first play was a 7-yard completion to him to midfield. A couple plays later, Watson zipped a 20-yard pass to a wide open WR Amari Cooper. On an aborted screen pass, Watson still managed to run for 2 yards on the final play of the quarter, setting up a 2nd-and-8.

2nd Quarter

The second quarter opened with a swing pass to Chubb, but it was sniffed out for a loss of 2 yards. On 3rd-and-10, Watson tried to fire a quick slant to WR Elijah Moore, but the ball was too low and in the dirt. K Dustin Hopkins came on for a 42-yard field goal, and he kicked it right down the middle to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead.

The Bengals didn’t do themselves any favors on the ensuing kickoff, returning it out to the 17 yard line only. The defense did the job for the third series in a row, forcing a three-and-out and a punt. This punt went out of bounds at the 44 yard line, giving the Browns’ offense their best starting field position of the game. Ford came back in and got the carry for 9 yards, but a holding penalty on LG Joel Bitonio set them back to 1st-and-17. A 6-yard completion to Cooper got them back to a 2nd-and-11. Watson threw a weird ball in the turf on second down, looking for Cooper again, but the bigger story was RT Jack Conklin writhing in pain after the play.

After the injury, on third down, the offense came up empty again when Watson underthrew Goodwin on the deep ball again, allowing the defender to break up the pass (Watson was also being hit as he threw).

The Bengals took over at the 21 yard line following another Bojorquez punt. Cincinnati finally moved the chains after RB Joe Mixon broke a tackle and picked up 12 yards. Mixon got the next carry too, ripping off a run of 22 yards and into Cleveland territory. A few plays later, Ward defended another third down pass on 3rd-and-3. Despite being at the Browns’ 38 yard line, instead of going for it or trying a long field goal, the Bengals punted. The punt went into the end zone for a touchback.

TE David Njoku saw his first target for a 9-yard gain, and Chubb moved the chains on second down. After a 7-yard run by Chubb, Watson bounced another ball — this time for Peoples-Jones — to set up 3rd-and-3. The third down handoff to Chubb went for 1 yard, setting up 4th-and-2 deep in their own territory. The offense stayed out there and tried for the hard count, but then took the delay of game and sent the punt unit out. Cincinnati was pinned back again, having to start the drive at the 5 yard line. Cincinnati got into a 3rd-and-1 situation, but the defense sold out for the run inside with LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah hitting Mixon for no gain and forcing a punt.

The punter got his best punt off of the day, with Peoples-Jones fair catching it at the 32 yard line with four minutes to go in the half. Chubb found a hole for 13 yards to open the drive, and then they went quick — although he was stopped for just 1 yard on the next play. Ford got the carry on second down and went no where, and then Watson skipped another pass on third down to an open Cooper, leading to a punt to the 21 yard line with 2:07 to go. Not to sound like a broken record, but the Browns’ defense continued to shine, with yet another three-and-out after pressure on third down. The Bengals punted back to Cleveland to the 33 yard line with 1:36 to go and all three timeouts. WR Elijah Moore got the handoff to begin the series, and he reversed field for a 19-yard run.

On the next play, Watson fired a strike to WR David Bell, but he dropped it. On second down, Watson was in a bit of chaos and threw another incompletion. On 3rd-and-10 from the Bengals’ 48 yard line, Watson got an 11-yard completion to Cooper on the sideline for a first down. That was followed up with a 12-yard completion to Peoples-Jones on the sideline, out to the 25 yard line with 0:36 left. A handoff to Ford gained 6 yards to the 19 yard line, and the Browns burned their second timeout with 0:31 left. A 6-yard pass to Moore got them to the 13 yard line, now with 0:26 left and no timeouts.

On first down, the fade to Cooper was incomplete up the left side. On second down, Kevin Stefanski pulled one on the Bengals, calling the quarterback draw. It worked to perfection, as Watson sprinted to the end zone untouched to give the Browns a 10-0 lead at the half!

3rd Quarter

The Browns had a chance to pile on to start the second half, but Watson was sacked on second down, and then his 3rd-and-11 pass to Moore was too hot, leading to an incompletion. Bojorquez’ first punt of the second half only went 30 yards to the Bengals’ 46 yard line, giving them their best starting field position of the day. Could the defense respond?

The Bengals got into a third down situation right away, and Burrow had a shot at Chase down the right side. The pass fell incomplete, but Ward grabbed the jersey for an 18-yard pass interference penalty. The defense held the Bengals from getting another first down, but they still got in range for a 42-yard field goal for K Evan McPherson. He connected to make it a 10-3 game.

Cleveland’s second drive of the half started much better, as Watson found Moore downfield for 33 yards. A few plays later, Watson made a disastrous throw and decision. A holding flag had already been called on the offense, and he rolled to his left and threw a duck right to a Bengals defender with no Browns player in sight. S Dax Hill picked it off and returned it to midfield. On the replay, you could see that the pass was tipped at the line and the rain also returned.

The Bengals picked up one first down, but on their next attempt on 3rd-and-5, Delpit made a heck of a play to defend the pass to WR Tee Higgins. That forced McPherson to come on for a 51-yard field goal attempt, which was no good!

The Browns’ offense took over at their own 41 yard line mid-way through the third quarter. Chubb marched the offense into Cincinnati territory with a 10-yard run. After no gain on the ground by Moore, Watson ran the keeper and took a big hit, holding onto the football, for 13 yards and a first down. The Browns kept at it on the ground with runs of 2 and 13 yards to set up a first down at the 21 yard line.

A couple plays later, Watson had a fastball go off of Njoku, lucky that it wasn’t intercepted. On third down, they spread the formation wide and hit Moore on the out route, but only for five yards. Hopkins came back onto the field to try extending the Browns’ lead to two possessions. This field goal was from 34 yards out, and he hit it to make it a 13-3 game with two minutes left in the third quarter.

Burrow found Chase along the right sideline for a first down completion of 10 yards. They then tried pitching the ball to Chase to mix it up, but that play only gained 2 yards. The secondary continued to shine after that, as Martin Emerson broke up a pass to Higgins on second down, and on third down, Delpit fired in to stop TE Irv Smith well shy of a first down to end the quarter.

4th Quarter

On 4th-and-3 at their own 44 yard line, the Bengals opted to punt. The punter didn’t catch the punt cleanly, so he then had to hurry getting it off. It was only a 22 yard punt, but still to the Browns’ 36 yard line. Watson started with a 15-yard catch-and-run to Njoku. Then it was Ford who got a burst up the left side, breaking free for 17 yards to the Bengals 32 yard line. Ford got the next carry again for 3 yards, and then again for 2 yards to set up a 3rd-and-5 at the 27 yard line. Watson ran a playaction fake on third down and found TE Harrison Bryant for 2 yards. Hopkins came on again, now to try a 43-yard field goal, and he was good again to make it a 16-3 game with 11:29 to go.

The defense cleaned up again to force another three-and-out, but with it being 4th-and-4 and time an issue, they kept the offense out there at the 31 yard line. DE Myles Garrett got a grip on Burrow and held on for the sack and turnover on downs!

Cleveland took over at the 18 yard line, and Chubb got the first handoff for a gain of 11 yards, setting up 1st-and-goal at the 7 yard line. Chubb picked up 4 yards to make it 2nd-and-goal at the 3 yard line. On second down, Watson ran the playfake and hit Bryant wide open in the flat for a touchdown to make it 22-3! The offense stayed out there to go for two, and Watson stretched over the goal line for the conversion and a 24-3 lead with 9:11 to go.

Delpit made another sure-tackle on third down to continue a stellar game, and this time forced a punt as Cincinnati essentially had to get ready to concede this one with seven minutes to go. Cleveland went three-and-out as they just ran the ball with Ford, and then the Bengals sent in backup QB Jake Browning with 5:24 to go. The defense kept playing with fire, forcing a quick punt as Cleveland continued running the clock out on offense with Ford (although Watson did complete one throw to TE Jordan Akins for a first down).

Ford’s yards per carry average suffered for those late-game carries that the defense was ready for. Cleveland punted with 0:24 to go, and the Bengals kneeled it out.

Next up, the Browns travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers on Monday Night Football. The Steelers just got smoked by the San Francisco 49ers.

Quick Hitters

  • QB Deshaun Watson: 16-of-29 for 154 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. 5 rushes, 45 yards, 1 TD.
  • RB Nick Chubb: 18 carries, 106 yards (5.9 YPC). 4 catches, 21 yards (4 targets).
  • WR Amari Cooper: 3 catches, 37 yards (7 targets).
  • WR Elijah Moore: 3 catches, 43 yards (7 targets). 2 rushes, 19 yards.
  • TE David Njoku: 2 catches, 24 yards (3 targets).
  • DE Myles Garrett: 2 tackles, 1 sack.
  • S Grant Delpit: 8 tackles.
  • K Dustin Hopkins easily hit his three field goals and one extra point.
  • The Browns dominated in yardage, having 350 yards to 142 yards.
  • This was the Browns’ first Week 1 home victory since 2004, when QB Jeff Garcia beat the Ravens 20-3.