If you were looking for a back and forth game with little defense, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals provided that for you Sunday afternoon.
I knew going into the game that this would be a close one. And a close one it was. The Cleveland Browns needed a game-winning drive from quarterback Baker Mayfield to earn a 37-34 win on the road.
Let’s get the ugly out of the way right now. Neither team has a good or even decent defense.
Cleveland gave up 468 yards of offense. Cincinnati allowed 398 yards. This wasn’t even close to a game of good quality defense. The tackling from both teams wasn’t anything to write home about either.
Cleveland did have a few bright spots on the defensive side of the ball.
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett had another big game. Garrett had another strip-sack fumble and two sacks. Garrett is now dealing with more double and triple teams. He’s also being chipped by running backs and tight ends a lot more now. That’s how the Pittsburgh Steelers defended Garrett and now, more teams will be doing the same thing. Until someone else on the line steps up, this will continue to happen.
Cleveland cornerback Denzel Ward had another good day. Ward broke up, what would’ve been a touchdown catch from Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, in the corner of the endzone. Ward also caused a deflection that turned into an interception in the first quarter.
People continue to complain about the Browns defense being bad and I understand that. But what I don’t understand is why those same people don’t understand that this is the Cleveland defense, more than likely, for the rest of the year. You know they’re going to give up a lot of yards and a lot of points. Unless Cleveland makes a trade or two for defensive help, this is what you get. I’m not saying I like it, but the defense is what it is this year. And yes, it will cost them games this season. That’s the unfortunate part.
Here’s the bright side for Browns fans. After a slow start, the second quarter came around and that’s when the Browns offense started to heat up. Cleveland only scored 3 points in the first quarter, after that, they looked better.
Mayfield was not sacked in this game and passed for 297 yards. Baker threw one interception which came in the first quarter, but also threw five touchdowns. Baker also had a rating of 135.
The run game looked decent with Hunt rushing for 76 yards.
I was pretty happy with the pass-blocking of the offensive line. Normally, I give them most of their credit in run blocking, but they did a good job in the pass-blocking game.
In the first quarter, Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. hurt his knee. He tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season.
With OBJ out, Cleveland needed different people to step up.
Welcome back Rashard Higgins. From not getting much playing time to ending up with 6 receptions for 110 yards. Higgins made some great catches, but the most impressive one was late in the fourth on Cleveland’s final drive. His catch is what setup, what would become the go-ahead touchdown catch made by rookie WR Donovan People-Jones. Higgins will be getting more chances this year, now that Beckham is out with injury. I expect big things out of him.
Speaking of Donovan People-Jones. The rookie from Michigan was put in a very difficult situation and he came through. People-Jones made two great catches that helped Cleveland prevail. The TD catch with 11 seconds left and a catch earlier in that drive. Again, with OBJ out, he’ll get a chance to shine now.
Tight end David Njoku was able to play with TE Austin Hooper out due to injury. Njoku had a nice catch for a touchdown and he’ll likely get another start this Sunday when Cleveland hosts Las Vegas. I wanted to talk a bit more about Njoku. It’s no secret that David has requested a trade due to a lack of playing. Right now, Cleveland is holding onto him for two reasons. His talent and depth. With hooper out, Cleveland only has Njoku and rookie tight end Harrison Bryant. This is how I see it. Njoku is an athletic type of TE and isn’t much of a blocking TE. That is a problem in head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense. He wants his tight ends to block and do some dirty work, just like his WR’s. This alone is why I think the Browns will end up trading David, when the time is right.
Harrison Bryant had himself a great day. He caught four passes for 56 yards which included two TD’s. Bryant is also a good blocking tight end, which is what Stefanski wants. He seems to have good hands too.
ODELL BECKHAM JR.-
I know a lot of people that aren’t really upset about the loss of OBJ. Let me just say this. I think the offense will be fine, but I want people to remember that Beckham is very talented and commands every DC’s attention on both gameday and throughout the week leading up to the game. Odell is usually always being doubled, which opens up the passing game for other players.
Now with Beckham out, Mayfield will need to distribute the ball to more players. That seems to be great for Baker. Here is an opportunity for the Browns to confuse teams as to who could be getting the ball. Instead of it being just primarily Jarvis Landry and OBJ, it could be four or five different receivers. That could cause just as many problems. Also, let’s see if Mayfield plays about the same, worse or better with no more Odell on the field.
BAKER’S GOT YOUR BACK-
Though it was just one game, Baker Mayfield put the Browns offense on his back. This was that game where Mayfield was the reason Cleveland emerged as the victors. Baker made some throws that had to be made in order to get the win. His receivers made some great catches, but Baker hung into the pocket and made those throws that Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Big Ben, Drew Brees and others have made to get their team a win. This is not to say that Mayfield is going to end up as an elite QB, but for one game, he made the plays needed to win. I have recently talked about Baker having to deal with his third new offense and no off-season this year. That matters a lot. It makes a big difference. Mayfield also must continue to be better at reading defenses, being more accurate more consistently and throwing less picks. I don’t agree with anyone that calls for Baker to be traded. I do believe Cleveland will pick up Mayfield’s option.
This was a huge win for Cleveland for many reasons. It’s a win within the division, 5-2 looks and sounds much better than 4-3, it keeps the Browns in the AFC North race and playoff race. Cleveland now has a chance to head into their bye-week with a 6-2 record, but that won’t be easy, as they will host the Raiders this Sunday.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Nick Broulis