Can the Browns get themselves back on track?
On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
High Stakes Game
- The Browns can’t be content with their 4-4 record to begin the season, including losing 3 of their past 4 games and a division game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. The offense, which is supposed to be electric, is averaging a mere 15 points per week over the past 3 games. You also had the whole OBJ situation. This week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals has a lot of stakes to it.
- At the beginning of the season, I think a lot of us thought of the Bengals as being two wins that Cleveland could circle on their calendar. Instead, Cincinnati has started the season at 5-3, including dominant victories over both the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. The tandem of Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase has been deadly. A loss to the Bengals would put Cleveland at 4-5, under .500, and at least two games behind the top team in the AFC North. At that point, the Browns would then need to be focusing on an uphill battle just to get a wildcard spot.
- A win, though, puts Cleveland back in decent shape and perhaps back on track. Remember when Beckham was out due to injury last year? It came against Cincinnati, and Baker Mayfield stated playing much more loose and confident, as if they mental block was gone from his mind.
- The Bengals are a dangerous, but certainly inconsistent team. For as great as they played the Steelers, Ravens, and Packers (in defeat), they’ve also lost to the Chicago Bears and New York Jets. Two of their victories came against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions, who have combined for one victory.
Cincinnati’s Offense & Cleveland’s Offense
- If you read our Q&A with Cincy Jungle this week, there are a lot of things to like about Cincinnati. I kept asking myself, “how are the Bengals winning with that terrible offensive line?” but that is a case where my mind is a bit stuck in 2020. Cincinnati’s offensive line was awful last year, assisting in getting Burrow killed, but it has graduated to being an average offensive line in 2021. That still causes some problems, but it’s a drastic improvement for a quarterback of Burrow’s caliber. The guy lit Cleveland’s defense up last year with no time to throw — imagine how he is now.
- The Bengals have a nice core of offensive weapons. Chase has 38 catches for 786 yards and 7 touchdowns. Tyler Boyd has 37 catches for 398 yards and 2 touchdown. Tee Higgins has 29 catches for 353 yards and 2 touchdowns. And tight end C.J. Uzomah has 21 catches for 289 yards and 5 touchdowns. All 3 of the Bengals’ top receivers had more catches, yards, and as many touchdowns as the top respective receivers on Cleveland.
- Kevin Stefanski needs to have a good game here. I think he has adjusted the playbook a bit too much when injuries have happened to his tackles. I get the need not to be predictable, but we’ve also seen wrinkles of the offense that were successful in 2020 disappear this year: the gadget plays with Jarvis Landry, more seam routes to the tight ends, the playaction-designed throwback across the field, etc. Instead, we keep getting the same motion play with Demetric Felton that seems to lead to nothing. At the same time, how do you find the right balance of continuing to incorporate the wildly successful ground game, but improving scoring output?
- Donovan Peoples-Jones should return this week. With Beckham gone, it’ll be interesting to see if Anthony Schwartz gets a bump in playing time. Remember that Schwartz saw that surprise action in Week 1, catching 3 passes for 69 yards. Since then, he has just 4 total catches for 33 yards. Jarvis Landry will no doubt want to have a bounce back week and try to pull this team together, as he did when he arrived to the Browns a few years ago.
- I haven’t talked about the Browns’ defense much, but should I? Fans are frustrated that they don’t play even better, but they’ve done their job the past three weeks. The one area still lacking is the generation of turnovers, though, which can create huge swings in games.
- I hope the Browns are able to get the ball to begin the second half. It just feels like they need a game where the defense gets a big stop first, the offense drives down for a score, and then they control the end of half/beginning of half situation from there.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 2.5-point underdogs against the Bengals on Sunday.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “If I stepped outside of my Browns’ skin, I would say that the Bengals had a letdown game last week, but that Cleveland was really struggling lately so it’s hard to see how they can contain Burrow-Chase. I’m definitely nervous about this game, but I’m pulling for the bounceback.” Browns 31, Bengals 28
rufio: “I want to see the offense that we rolled out against the Broncos, only with Baker at quarterback. We haven’t seen that in what feels like weeks, maybe since Baker was hurt. Hopefully there is some truth to the “Baker is better without Odell” thoughts–and maybe Stefanski and Van Pelt are too. Baker is his best when the world is against him, which is right now. DPJ and Schwartz will step up in Odell’s absence, and Jed’s ankle will be a little bit better as time goes on, allowing us to run the ball. Chubb is due for a 50+ yard TD,
Defensively, I think we get Denzel back and our defensive line is mostly able to play, maybe except Clowney. The Bengals offensive line is not great, and the key to this phase is going to be getting Burrow to hold the ball long enough to let Myles do his thing. Having Newsome and Ward both back and healthy will go a long way toward making that happen.
I think in the end this one plays out like the Kansas City game,: the Browns will go up early and roll, and then slowly let Cincy back into the game, except that we hold on and win this one.” Browns 33, Bengals 31
Barry Shuck: “The Browns’ offense is atrocious this year despite leading the league in rushing two weeks in a row. This team is built to run, yet they want to be a passing team. Cincinnati’s pass defense is ranked 9th. Our leading receiver is 74th in receptions and isn’t even a wide receiver (Njoku). So why aren’t we running more? This line is built to run the football. 23 rushing attempts against the Steelers? 19 carries in the Cardinals game? Really? And with more passing these are more dropped passes – which seems to be the offense’s theme this year. Our receiver group just fell apart and now OBJ needs a pacifier. He had one catch against Pittsburgh and two receptions the week before in the win over Denver. NFL players get paid every two weeks. For three catches, OBJ made $1.658 million, or $552,632 per catch. Where do you apply for his job?
The defense is a roller coaster. Malik McDowell, Myles Garrett and Anthony Walker are having a great season, but the defensive backfield has lots of issues while the Browns’ pass defense is ranked 21st. Crikey! That does not bode well against a pass-happy Bengals team which are 5th in the league. This one won’t be close.” Bengals 38, Bengals 17
Matt Wood: “Cleveland against the World. It’s time for Baker to either open up the floodgates of criticism or he slams it shut. If he goes out and balls (like he did last week BTW) he can silence a lot of the chatter. I do think the DPJ will play as he seems to sync with Baker. But let’s not get it twisted, the ground game needs to set the tone. The Browns threw the ball a TON early against the Steelers and it seemed to throw the offense off kilter a little bit. When they looked for it later on, it wasn’t there. Now maybe it was smart coaching to do what they don’t expect, but I found it a bit odd, especially when the WR’s were doing the offense NO favors.
This week, they lean on Chubb and Johnson to get things cranked up and take some shots deep. Defense has one of their best games against a OL that has had some ups and downs.
Browns quiet things, at least for now…” Browns 31, Bengals 20
Ezweav: “Last week was just disgusting. Truly a team effort of suck. I know we’re not that bad but I still just have zero confidence that we can string some complementary football together.
Bangles are fine even though LOLOLOL that Jets’ game last week. Of course the Jets would probably clean our clocks too since we seem to constantly be in our own way. Except Myles of course, who’s the best defensive player in football but nobody cares.
Everything’s ugly and nothing will ever get better.” Bengals 45, Browns 13
Thomas Moore: “The Browns return to the stadium that kicked off their playoff run in 2020 in need of another boost. With no worries about who they need to get involved on offense, the Browns find their mojo, Myles Garrett reminds Joe Burrow why an offensive line is a quarterback’s best friend, and the Browns secondary finally figures out how to not get pantsed by an opposing wide receiver.” Browns 37, Bengals 34
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.