Game one, divisional rival, battle of Ohio and NFL football is back, that’s why I’m watching. This Sunday, September 10, the Browns host the Bengals at Cleveland Stadium, 1:00pm EST. This will be Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski’s first season opener at home. Cleveland will feature a new offense and a new defense, which can be a negative and a positive. On the negative side, new systems usually takes a while to gel and on the positive side Cincinnati has seen neither system, so they don’t know what to prepare for. What am I watching game one?
Browns Offense Vs. Bengals Defense. As with the Bengals offense, the Browns offense runs through their quarterback, Deshaun Watson. I expect a lot of play action and RPO. Like most teams Cleveland plays, the defense will try and stop running back Nick Chubb. In nine career games against Cincinnati, Chubb has rushed for 797 yards, seven touchdowns for an average of 5.08 yards a carry. He’s gone over 100 yards five times. The key to the Browns offense is wide receiver Elijah Moore. He’s a weapon and should be used as such. Both Bengal defensive ends (Sam Hubbard & Trey Hendrickson) are very good and can bring pressure. The best way to combat this is to run right at them. Both Cleveland tackles worry me a bit, but running Chubb with a pulling guard should slow down the pass rush. The Bengals linebackers (Logan Wilson & Germaine Pratt) are also very good, but struggle covering tight ends. In the secondary, Cincinnati has two new safeties. Because of the strength of their safeties last year, the Bengals played five or more defensive backs 82% of the time and cover three was most used. Two protect the new safeties, the Bengals may be forced to play more cover two. If so, the Browns running will benefit.
Browns Defense Vs. Bengals Offense. The key to this matchup is the Browns revamped defensive line versus the Bengals revamped offensive line. Much has been made of Cincinnati’s acquisition of left tackle Orlando Brown, Jr. This allows the Bengals to move Jonah Williams to right tackle. For most teams this would be a strength, but against the Browns it may not be. Wiliams last year allowed twelve sacks on 43 pressures, one of the worst rates in the league. In this game he’ll have to go up against a duo of Za’Darius Smith, Ogbo Okoronkwo and possibly Alex Wright. I would leave Myles Garrett one-on-one with Brown who he’s had success against, (game one in 2021 against the Chiefs, eight pressures, two QB hits and one sack). The Browns must pressure QB Joe Burrow, but not blitz him. With no pressure Burrow has passed for 71%, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions. With pressure Burrow has passed for 55%, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. When he’s sacked two or more times by the Browns, Cincinnati is 0-4 and he’s had an interception is four straight games against the Browns. Burrow has never passed for over 300 yards against Cleveland. As for the interior of the Bengals offensive line, they’re average and will have their hands full with Dalvin Tomlinson, Sika Ika and Shelby Harris. The Bengals feature the best wide receiver room in the NFL. In the passing game, Cincinnati plays a lot of shotgun with very little play action and motion. I expect the Browns to play mostly man-to man with three safeties on the field most of the time if Juan Thornhill can play. If not, Rodney McLeod will start and that’s a plus because he knows Jim Schwartz’s defense the best. The only question mark for the Browns defense are the linebackers, (Anthony Walker & Sione Takitaki) two of which haven’t played in the preseason. The talent is good enough to help in coverage against the Bengals running backs and tight ends.
The biggest question mark in this game will be the special teams. The Bengals have been good for about ten years, while the Browns have been on a downward spiral since Kevin Stefanski has been head coach. Running back Jerome Ford will return kickoffs and wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones will return punts. No one knows how new kicker Dustin Hopkins will do, hopefully this game won’t come down to a last-minute field goal. Everyone enjoy the game & Go Browns.