One could argue that the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals are heading in different directions as they get set to clash this Sunday. And, for the first time in a long time, that momentum seems to be tipping in Cleveland’s favor.
After starting out 4-1, the Bengals sit at 5-5 having just lost their grip on the AFC’s sixth seed to the Ravens. Baltimore stole it from them last week while utilizing an offense Junior Varsity squads have mastered.
We knew it would be difficult to sweep the Ravens, particularly when trying to grab that second win on the road without their Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green. But, losing against a rookie quarterback with that offense? Yuck.
So, for the Bengals right now, it isn’t so much that they’re losing. It’s in the way that it’s occurring.
Effort seems to be lacking on defense, while the offense can’t seem to sustain drives if their top receiver isn’t on the field. Throw in some critical injuries and casual fans are asking “Who’s that guy?” on Sundays for the men in stripes.
A lot of little things are killing them as well, which is often the case with this beleaguered franchise. For instance, Justin Tucker hit a 56-yard field goal with ease, while Randy Bullock missed a 51-yard try to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
And, those little things become gigantic things. Cincinnati also had to rely on Cody Core in a critical situation and he didn’t step up when his number was called.
Here’s a lovely little snapshot of the state of the Bengals right now:
Your updated #Bengals rankings:— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonATH) November 19, 2018
Total O: 25
Rush O: 25
Pass O: 21
Scoring O: 11
Total D: 32
Rush D: 31
Pass D: 32
Scoring D: 31
“The Battle of Ohio” hasn’t had the same luster as it did in the old AFC Central days when Paul Brown was still around reminding everyone about his hatred for Art Modell’s pre-Baltimore squad. Cleveland has been so bad since their 1999 rebirth that these games rarely have a playoff-like atmosphere to them.
Even so, the Browns are better better this year. Their 3-6-1 record is a bit misleading, as four contests were either a tie or one-possession loss. They’ve also been to overtime four times in 2018 with a 1-2-1 record.
In short, they’re scrappy.
Gregg Williams now takes Jackson’s place for the time-being as the head coach and the team rallied to get him his first win last week against Atlanta. You remember Williams, right? He was the coach at the epicenter of “Bountygate” a few years back when he was with New Orleans.
Given his history in the league, Williams would probably love to have a guy like Vontaze Burfict on his unit, with No. 55’s incessant boundary-testing. Or, at least, Williams would love to have any version of Burfict other than that of 2018, as he appears to be playing a much softer brand of football akin to the rest of his defensive mates.
In what is quite apropos, given the Browns’ unofficial mascot, this matchup will largely be about a couple of dawgs—Bulldogs, to be exact. Green seems like he’ll be returning this week from a toe injury, while running back Nick Chubb attempts to grab more of the national spotlight amongst rookies.
Chubb faces a historically-bad Bengals defense, which currently ranks 31st against the run. It’s one of the few categories on that side of the ball in which they don’t rank dead-last, but Chubb is on a recent tear. He has 538 rushing yards, five touchdowns and a 6.2 yards per carry average over the past seven games.
Regardless, that feeling you’ll have this Sunday isn’t the tryptophan from leftover turkey. It’s coming from the monotonous offense of the Bengals and their matchup against what still seems like a lower opponent.
The biggest storyline of this contest this week isn’t in some of the players, though. It’s in a particular coach.
Hue Jackson was looked at as a savior of sorts for the Cleveland Browns back in 2016. After all, Jackson created a very innovative offense in Cincinnati and was intimately familiar with the division, having spent eight previous years in The Queen City and two others with the Baltimore Ravens.
However, Jackson didn’t last as many seasons (about two and a half) as he had wins with the Browns (three) and The Dawg Pound continues its seemingly never-ending search for the right head coach. But, you just knew that Jackson wouldn’t be unemployed for very long with his pal needing help about 250 miles down I-71.
Marvin Lewis, fresh on the heels of letting go one of his prized coaching gets from earlier in the year, decided to oversee the defense starting in Week 11. With that decision came the need for an extra set of eyes that sees things the way he does.
It’s unclear exactly what the long-term plan is with Jackson in Cincinnati, but for now, he’s a band-aid being placed on a wound needing numerous stitches. Even so, there is a small hope that he can be of great help with these two games against the Browns that the Bengals need to win to have a shot a the postseason.
“Special Assistant to the Head Coach/Divisional Spy” has a nice ring to it, no?
When the Bengals have struggled in the past and have been on losing streaks, a matchup against the Browns usually snaps them out of it. Recently-speaking, in 2016, the Bengals were on a tough two-game skid and beat Jackson’s Browns at home to temporarily shake them out of a funk. The same happened last year as a Week 4 road win sparked a 3-1 record over the next handful of games.
Cincinnati is 1-4 in their last five contests and their playoff hopes are on life support. If they want to warm up the defibrillator paddles for a needed jolt to the system, a divisional win would do the trick.
Sure, Cleveland is improved and has some nice pieces in place, but they’re probably still a year away from being a true threat within the division. That doesn’t mean they won’t give the Bengals a scare on their home turf.
Browns 20, Bengals 22
AC — Happy Thanksgiving, ya filthy animals.