Can the Browns win 12 games? Can the Browns win a game with their fifth starting quarterback? Can they defeat Cincinnati and make the Bengals winless in the AFC North? How will the backups play? These are the reasons I’m watching. This Sunday Cleveland travels to the Queen City to play Cincinnati at Paycor Stadium, 1:00 pm EST. The Bengals are ranked 22nd in total offense averaging 318 yards, 234 yards passing, 84 yards rushing and 20.9 points a game. they’re 31st in total defense allowing 383 yards, 255 yards passing, 128 yards rushing and 23.1 points a game. The Browns are ranked eleventh in total offense averaging 342 yards, 222 yards passing, 120 yards rushing and 23.9 points a game. They’re ranked first in total defense allowing 267 yards, 166 yards passing, 101 yards rushing and 20.7 points a game. What am I watching?
Browns Offense Vs. Bengals Defense. As mentioned above, Cincinnati’s defense is next to last in the league. They’re ranked 26th against the run, 29th against the pass and allow opponents to convert 42% of the time on third down, third most in the league. The Bengals do have good pieces on defense. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson leads the team in sacks (17) which is tied for first in the NFL. Their linebackers (Logan Wilson & Germaine Pratt) are tackling machines. The Bengals are also top in the league in turnover ratio at plus nine. Since losing defensive tackle D.J. Reader to injury, the Bengals can’t stop the run and their secondary has struggled all year. The Browns will start quarterback Jeff Driskel, who does have some familiarity with the offense. His offensive coordinator in Arizona was former Browns quarterback coach Drew Petzing and Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt were in Cincinnati together for one year. He’s bigger and has a stronger arm than P.J. Walker and can run the run-pass-option effectively. I suspect the team will play Pierre Strong at running back, play Cedric Tillman, David Bell, James Proche and Marquise Goodwin at wide receiver and Harrison Bryant and Jordan Atkins at tight end. The Browns will need to establish the run and use quick slants and screens to open up the down-the-field passing to Tillman and Goodwin. No turnovers.
Browns Defense Vs. Bengals Offense. Cincinnati’s offense centers around quarterback Jake Browning. Considering the situation, he’s played well. Wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd are expected to play, but not Tee Higgins. Running back Joe Mixon might play but has been listed with an illness. I expect him to play, he’s only 77 yards away from a 1000-yard season. If not, it’ll be Chase Brown. I also expect tight end Drew Sample to be a major target of Browning. Cincinnati’s offensive line is a weakness. In 10 games, Joe Burrow was sacked 24 times, in eight games Browning has been sacked 22 times. Because the Bengals have the worst rushing offense in the league, I expect the Browns defensive line to continue to be destructive and turn pressures into sacks. The starting defense for the Browns should be mostly backups, but I expect defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will have them ready to play. Let’s see what happens, but the Browns defense has allowed a scoring drive just 23% of the time, the best in the league.
On offense, I expect a simplistic game plan stressing ball control to eliminate errors and on defense, I expect an aggressive approach even with backups. The Browns can win this game by staying true to their season-long identity, good defense and good offensive execution.