The Bengals and Browns both come into this game without a win, and for two teams that saw a lot of optimism around them in the offseason, this wasn’t how either one envisioned starting their season.
It’s less of a surprise for the Browns. People knew this offense was going to struggle, especially as DeShone Kizer was getting his sea-legs, but for the Bengals this offensive incompetence came as more of a surprise.
Both teams are looking for their first win and right now all the momentum is with the Bengals. They have a new offensive coordinator who is featuring Mixon more, their defense played a solid half last week against one of the league’s best offenses and overall played the Packers close on the road last week.
The Browns lost to the Colts in a game that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicates. Kizer was improving overall but his receivers were dropping every other pass that was thrown and Isaiah Crowell couldn’t get anything going on the ground.
The Bengals clearly have the advantage coming into this game.
What do the Browns need to do to win?
Stop the Bengals Pass Rush
Last week Carl Lawson has a huge game, playing a part in three sacks and logging four tackles. For the first half of last week’s game against the Packers, the Bengals were able to disrupt Rodgers and the pocket penetration forced poor throws that the secondary capitalized on.
The Browns have a better offensive line than the Packers, but Kizer also isn’t equipped to handle the pass rush as effectively as Rodgers. Stopping Lawson and the Bengals pass rush is going to be huge, and one of the ways they can do that is to establish the run early and not to abandon it.
If the Browns want to help Kizer, they need to be able to establish a reliable ground game so they don’t have to throw the ball on seemingly every down. The Bengals have the NFL’s 25th run defense, and have given up more than 150 yards per game twice this season. Even the Ravens were able to put 157 rushing yards on this defense, so if Crowell, Johnson and Dayes can step up the Browns have the potential to dominate on the ground.
In that vein, Kizer can use his legs and extend plays to great effect against the Bengals if he needs to. Last week the Bengals secondary seemed to crumble every time Rodgers was able to extend a play in the second half, and while Kizer is eight seasons and a magic potion away from becoming Aaron Rodgers he is arguably more mobile. Moving Kizer around in the pocket or letting him scramble a bit more should make him more comfortable and hopefully reduce the sack problem.
Players to Watch
Famed for his dirty hits and resulting numerous suspensions, Burfict is returning for the Bengals and looks to bolster this run defense that is currently one of the league’s worst. He should make an instant impact on this Bengals team, but having been out for three games it’s unknown how much Burfict will play in this game.
Last time Burfict returned from suspension, he took around three-quarters of the snaps in that first game, so that’s a number to expect heading into Sunday’s game.
Jordan Leslie and Kasen Williams
Leslie made an instant impact for the Browns, catching his one target in spectacular fashion to move the Browns down towards the Colts end zone. Kasen Williams was targeted more, but didn’t make a huge impact on the game.
With Corey Coleman out, these two represent the young Browns receivers. Rashard Higgins is on the verge of a breakout performance and Kenny Britt continues to be targeted more than other receivers but if the Browns can get a solid performance out of both Leslie and Williams they’ll go a long way to solving their receiving woes.
The Browns have to run the football between the tackles, and while Duke Johson is a talented, versatile back, the North/South yards have always gone to Crowell. Last season he was averaging around 4 yards per carry, and this season he’s only at 2.9. Granted he’s seen very few opportunities and what few opportunities he has had have been telegraphed runs from the start, but the whole running game has to improve and right now that rests on Crowell.
The Bengals should have the edge in this game. They have more momentum, more raw talent on offense and a defense that is coming off of a solid performance against Green Bay last week. The Browns home field advantage is one of the weakest in the NFL.
If they couldn’t get it done against the Colts, they’re likely going to struggle against the Bengals.
Cincinnati Bengals: 17
Cleveland Browns: 20
With that said, I think the Browns are going to win this game. If Myles Garrett makes his debut they’ll be in even better shape, but even without him I think this defense can get pressure on Andy Dalton and keep this game close. As long as the Bengals don’t jump out to an early lead, I think the Browns can run the ball, control the game and grind the clock.
— cover32 Browns (@cover32_CLE) September 29, 2017
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