There’s a combined zero wins and six losses between the two teams that’ll be playing in Cleveland this Sunday. It’s possible that neither team escapes with a victory, but at the very least it’s impossible for both Cincinnati and Cleveland to lose again.
While both teams have earned their records thus far, the Bengals looked substantially better than their 0-3 record would indicate last week against Green Bay. The Browns, on the contrary, spotted a four-score lead to the Colts’ Jacoby Brissett and then spent the rest of the game in a vain attempt to catch up.
This is a game that Cincinnati can easily win, should their momentum from last week carry over. As we’ve seen so often in this NFL season, however, that’s far from a given.
Bradford ruled out for third straight week
Coming into the game, the Bengals had ruled out receiver John Ross, tight end Tyler Eifert, and linebacker Jordan Evans. Safety Derron Smith was listed as doubtful, while guard Trey Hopkins was listed as questionable. Receiver Josh Malone and guard Christian Westerman round out the list of inactive players heading into this game.
Eight other players for the Bengals (Giovani Bernard, Cody Core, Carlos Dunlap, George Iloka, Brandon LaFell, KeiVarae Russell, Josh Shaw, Shawn Williams), were listed on the team’s injury report, but all were full participants by Friday and none should be limited in the game.
For the Browns, linebacker Jamie Collins missed the full week of practice and was ruled out for Sunday’s game. Three of four Browns players listed as questionable – receiver Sammie Coates, defensive end Myles Garrett, and nose tackle Danny Shelton – are inactive as well. Quarterback Cody Kessler, offensive tackle Zach Banner, and center Marcus Martin round out the list of inactive players.
Tight end Randall Telfer, who missed practice on Wednesday, was limited Thursday through Friday, and was designated as questionable for the game, will apparently be available. Seven other players on the roster who were without designation (receiver Kenny Britt, halfbacks Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr., defensive linemen Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah, and offensive linemen Joe Thomas and Kevin Zeitler) will all be available as well.
After a promising first-half showing against the Green Bay Packers, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s unit sputtered a bit in the second half. Against Cleveland – a team with two front-seven stars absent and a back end that couldn’t stop lesser offenses from passing deep – he could have a nice tune-up game.
Cleveland doesn’t have a statistically bad defense – they’ve allowed 233 passing yards and 87.7 rushing yards per game – but two of those games came within the division, against the terminally ill Ravens’ offense and a Steelers’ unit that has looked like an identity theft victim through three weeks. Most recently against Indianapolis, quarterback Jacoby Brissett was able to complete 17 of 24 pass attempts for 259 yards and a touchdown. Receiver T.Y. Hilton went off, accounting for the touchdown, seven of the catches and 153 of the yards.
On the ground, Indianapolis attempted to bleed the game out with Frank Gore, who scored a touchdown, but only got 57 yards on 25 rushing attempts.
Overall (and despite statistics derived from their poor start), the Bengals’ offense is a superior unit in terms of talent. Lazor has a young Joe Mixon to lean on rather than Frank Gore (although Gore has looked remarkable for his age), and – as bad as the unit is – arguably a better offensive line than Indy. In the passing game, Dalton to Green is better on both ends than Brissett to Hilton, especially with the start Green has had to this season.
It’s still far from all of the talent he could have at his disposal, but the offense has enough to work with to put on a show this week.
The biggest story of this game – especially for the Bengals faithful – is the return of linebacker Vontaze Burfict from a three-game suspension. While the defense as a unit is hardly responsible for the Bengals’ dismal start to the season, they’re still a group in need of the type of emotional on-field leader that Burfict is.
From a more tactical standpoint, Cleveland is the only team in the NFL to match Cincinnati’s poor turnover differential (-5) through three games. Between those games, quarterback Deshone Kizer has thrown seven interceptions – excluding Mike Glennon (who’s now played four games), Andy Dalton is part of a seven-player tie for second with just four. In fairness, these weren’t all on Kizer, but the rookie is accountable for his share of them.
Additionally, Kizer is tied for sixth in the league for sacks taken with ten. While that’s less than Dalton’s total, Kizer has been more responsible for that total than other quarterbacks near his number – his offensive line hasn’t been a liability. Kizer has just held on to the ball too long, too many times. While it’s logical for a rookie to do that, especially a rookie who’s played from behind as often as Kizer has, it’s still a weakness that the Bengals can capitalize on if the offense can put them ahead a score or two.
Browns 27, Bengals 34
None of these predictions have been accurate so far, but that can’t possible remain the case for much longer. The offense shouldn’t have much of an issue moving the ball down the field against Cleveland, and the defense has enough pass rushers to play well with a lead. Kizer will score his share of catch-up/garbage time touchdowns, as he has in his past few games, but it shouldn’t threaten the Bengals’ lead barring a total defensive breakdown.
– Andrew Hammel is the managing editor for cover32/Bengals and covers the Cincinnati Bengals for cover32. Follow him on Twitter at @cover32_CIN or @AH_Badiak.