For the past couple of seasons, the Cleveland Browns have been accumulating talent all over their roster and building a solid core of young players. This process, however, has not resulted in much success under the leadership of former head coach Hue Jackson.
Now, Jackson is out of the door and with the Cincinnati Bengals, so naturally, the Browns’ talent seems to be emerging to its full potential.
Meanwhile, the Bengals remain without an offensive identity and without any dignity on defense. For once, they can’t look at the Browns as an easy win. This will be their toughest matchup with their in-state rival in quite some time, and within the game lies plenty of matchups that are worth your attention. Here are the four we will be focusing on.
QB Andy Dalton vs. FS Damarious Randall
The Browns starting safety said what some of us may’ve already been thinking yesterday. Randall claimed the Browns would win easily if Dalton doesn’t have his No. 1 receiver, and based on how the Bengals have played with Green on the sideline, it’s hard to deny his confidence.
We still don’t know if Green will be out for this game, but if he is, then it’s on Dalton to make do without him for once. The Bengals offense has been terrible in the two games without the seven-time Pro Bowl receiver, and their issues have just compounded into bigger concerns.
Randall will be playing with a tad bit more swagger in this game because he has to back up his talk. Dalton needs to make sure he knows where Randall is every time he drops back to pass.
Whoever plays left tackle vs. DE Myles Garrett
Green isn’t the only key starter that’s questionable to play in this game. Left tackle Cordy Glenn only practiced once this week on Thursday and could very well be inactive for the first time in his Bengals career.
While Glenn hasn’t been a lockdown pass protector, he’s certainly better than those who’re behind him in the depth chart. If Glenn can’t go, that likely makes Jake Fisher the next man up.
Garrett only played against the Bengals once last year, and he feasted on Cedric Ogbuehi for what was arguably his best game. The former first-overall pick has progressed accordingly in his second season and is still a major force to be reckoned with. Whoever is protecting Dalton’s blindside needs to come ready to anchor down to that deadly bull rush Garrett has.
CB Darqueze Dennard vs. WR Jarvis Landry
In case you forgot, the Browns threw $34,000,000 in guaranteed money at Landry this offseason to produce 60 yards a game and just over 10 yards per reception. The fifth-year veteran has continued to be ineffective with his usage in a new offense, but still poses a threat in specific in-game situations.
This is where Dennard needs to take him out of the game.
Landry remains the Browns’ best route runner, even though the connection between quarterback Baker Mayfield has been average at best. On third down, Landry leads the team in targets with 31, and only 11 of those targets have netted first down conversions. Dennard will be responsible for keeping that rate where it is when he lines across from Landry in the slot.
LB Jordan Evans vs. RB Duke Johnson
The good news for Browns fans is that they’re finally letting Johnson loose in the passing game. In the past two weeks since Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator, Johnson leads the team in targets, yards and touchdowns.
Of course, this means someone for the Bengals is going to have to cover him out of the backfield and, well, they really don’t have anyone suited to do that.
Evans has had his chances to minimize the damage running backs have created against the Bengals defense in the passing game, but he’s failed more than he has succeeded. But if the team refuses to try out Malik Jefferson for this role, Evans will once again be entrusted, and the Bengals will most likely regret it once more.