Thursday Night Football in Week 2 saw the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns go head to head in “Battle of Ohio,” with the Browns coming out on top 35-30. With both teams in the infancy of changes, be that in their quarterback or head coach, what were the takeaways from this game on both sides of the ball? Note: Crissy Froyd, Lead Bengals Writer, provided the takeaways for Cincinnati.
The Browns defense is going to be rough all season
The Bengals managed 353 yards of total offense, which isn’t that bad when you consider Joe Burrow attempted 61 passes on the night. Still, the Bengals put up 30 points and stayed in the game even after the Cleveland offense made things look like a blowout was in store. Olivier Vernon, Kevin Johnson, Greedy Williams, and Jacob Phillips all missed the game, and Adrian Clayborn exited with an injury, the status of which will be something very important to monitor.
Ronnie Harrison and M.J. Stewart again played very limited roles, which was disappointing. The linebacker play was once again subpar, and Tavierre Thomas was picked on. The defensive line put together another stellar showing, with Myles Garrett wreaking havoc despite the Bengals double-teaming him on nearly every snap. Porter Gustin also made his presence felt filling in for Clayborn. Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi made life difficult for the Bengals interior offensive line, and Burrow suffered for it.
Despite the play of the defensive line, the problems on defense weren’t masked. Burrow was able to find receivers when he was given time, and defensive coordinator Joe Woods continued to drop lineman into coverage and to call rushing lanes close together, leading to a lot of overlap and stalling. No one is expecting the Cleveland defense to be in the top half of the league; it won’t be healthy enough to be this season. However, Woods is showing some less than ideal tendencies in his play-calling thus far, a stark contrast from his offensive counterpart.
Baker Mayfield is not finished quite yet
The four days between Mayfield’s disastrous performance against the Baltimore Ravens and his rebound against the Bengals were filled with unnecessary panicking and premature calls for Case Keenum to replace the third-year pro. Mayfield answered the doubters by going 16 of 23 for 219 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
His interception was a bad read where he didn’t see William Jackson closing in from the backside; an aggressive play that he paid for. That one bad play doesn’t come close to outweighing all the good he did, however. Mayfield executed Stefanski’s gameplan to near perfection, as he was composed and decisive. He made two great throws downfield to Odell Beckham Jr., one of which resulted in a touchdown, and another that would have likely been a score had Beckham not been interfered with (a call that was blatantly missed by the official).
Mayfield wasn’t perfect, and one game does not make a season. However, he was worlds better than he was in Week 1, and perhaps more importantly, he was good at the things he needs to be good at; things that are indicative of success. Throwing off play action being the biggest of those. As he gets more comfortable in this new offense, games like Thursday night should become more common.
Kevin Stefanski looks to be a very good hire
Are two games too early to declare a head coach good? Yes. Who knows how Stefanski will end up panning out, but one thing is for sure; he knows how to run an offense. He was one of the NFL’s best play-callers last year with the Minnesota Vikings and showed that in the first half of Week 1, although the Browns fell behind by too much too quickly to stick to the gameplan.
Things were different in Week 2, as Stefanski was able to call a full game, and he did it very, very well. No longer hamstrung by Mike Zimmer’s run-first tendencies, Stefanski has shifted towards a 60-40 pass-run split in neutral situations, and it’s paying off for Cleveland. He has two elite running backs at his disposal, and Stefanski used them brilliantly against the Bengals. He mixed in just enough play-action to keep the defense honest and to create some big plays. He got Mayfield out of the pocket on designed rollouts, and the quarterback was nailing his timing routes.
If there’s one mistake Stefanski made on the night, it was at the goal line in the third quarter after Nick Chubb ran the ball to the one-yard line. After three unsuccessful attempts at a touchdown, Stefanski got aggressive and went for it on fourth down, which did not work. The aggressiveness wasn’t the issue; it was the formations that were used. Three of the four plays were power runs which the Bengals stuffed. It’s often better to spread the defense out in that situation. It’s something he’ll certainly learn from.
Aside from that, Stefanski seemed extremely competent. He managed the clock well and was never too conservative, even when up by two scores. A loss would have been “acceptable” as long as the Browns showed improvement from Week 1. They did that and much more. Now they’ll wait 10 days before taking on the Washington Football Team, where Stefanski will try and keep the momentum going.
Deja Vu within the Bengals offense line
It doesn’t matter what Joe Burrow or anyone else can do if the men upfront can’t get things done. They failed to yet again on Thursday, allowing three sacks on Burrow and never giving the run game a chance to establish. It’s safe to say from watching the game that Burrow’s stat line could have been enhanced if the unit had performed better.
The Bengals were also held to all of 68 rushing yards, with Mixon the leader at a total of 46 rushing yards on 16 attempts. The team needs to act to fix the offensive line quickly before things take a significant turn for the worse for both Burrow and Mixon.
Joe Burrow’s big day is coming
Burrow gave himself a grade of ‘D’ in his first performance, despite being highly praised by many. The former LSU quarterback put in another solid effort this week, completing 37-of-61 passing attempts for 361 yards and three touchdowns. With this, he became the first rookie to throw for at least 60 passes in a game without a single interception.
Not all of the incompletions were his fault. If anything, he looked accurate and showed good ball placement overall. Dropped passes were an issue, and the fact A.J. Green was targeted 13 times and came up with just three receptions should be taken into consideration.
Burrow has so far demonstrated that the mental toolbox that got him so far at LSU can do the same for him and the Bengals at the professional level. However, he simply needs a complete team effort around him to produce a win.
Tackling remains an issue for the Bengals defense
Make no mistake about it, Nick Chubb isn’t an easy running back to stop. There’s a reason why he was in line right behind Tennessee Titans rusher Derrick Henry last year for the NFL’s rushing title.
But, the Bengals looked sloppy tackling this week, almost like they didn’t even want to bring their opponent down. They’ve got some new names on the back of jerseys this season, but we’re seeing the same issue in 2020 that we’ve seen in the past.
Chubb helped the Browns to ultimately run off with the win in Week 2, recording 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, leaving the Bengals heading to Philadelphia in Week 3 at 0-2.