The Bengals and Browns will be meeting up for the rematch of the Battle of Ohio this Sunday. It gives us a great chance to catch back up with Chris Pokorny of Dawgs by Nature to get his insight on this matchup.
Patrick Judis: Baker Mayfield was dealing with a rib injury last week that led to his worst performance of the season. Do you think he will be able to bounce back this week?
Chris Pokorny: Last week was a disastrous scenario for the Browns. Baker Mayfield has had issues the past couple of years with being skittish when pressure gets to him — it’s something he has slowly gotten better at, but part of that has been due to having a better offensive line. With pain in his ribs, Mayfield was going to be more anxious to not wanting to take hits, and yet he was facing a Steelers defense that blitzes about 45% of the time and a front that defends the run very well, taking away Cleveland’s strength. I think Mayfield can throw the ball well enough still, he just can’t be thinking in the back of his head that he’ll be taking a hit every play. I don’t think the Bengals’ defense brings that level of pressure, so Mayfield will get back to having time to throw off of play action fakes as Cincinnati tries to stop Cleveland’s running game from having 200+ yards rushing again.
PJ: Joe Burrow had his best game of the season against the Browns in Week 2. Most of his production came in the second half of the game during a comeback attempt. Are there any adjustments the Browns can make to keep Burrow from repeating that performance?
CP: When I see the Browns’ defense is ranked 19th in the NFL in yards allowed, it tells me, “good lord, there must be a lot of bad defenses in the NFL if we’re ranked that high.” One positive for Cleveland is that they have their nickelback, Kevin Johnson, back and playing in that role for the past two games. Overall, though, I don’t think you’ll see a drastic change in Cleveland’s defense. They still struggle in short third down situations, both against the run and the pass. Cleveland’s best approach is to keep on trying to bring pressure on Burrow — although he responded well to that in Week 2, at some point you have to think a quarterback will get a bit skittish or start misfiring to his receivers.
PJ: Who are some under the radar players you expect to play a big role in this game for Cleveland?
CP: Starting tight end Austin Hooper is out this week after having a surprise appendectomy. That opens the door for rookie tight end Harrison Bryant to see more action in the receiving game, or for former first-round pick David Njoku to see more action and perhaps be more motivated to make some plays (rumor has it that he would like to be dealt before the trade deadline).
On defense, safety Ronnie Harrison is one to watch. Fans had been clamoring for him to receive playing time at safety, and he got the opportunity to start at strong safety two weeks ago due to an injury to Karl Joseph. Harrison ended up having a pick six against Philip Rivers, but he suffered a concussion. That kept him out against the Steelers last week, but he’s set to return this week. However, Joseph is also set to return. Who will start? If it’s Harrison, he’s been aggressive trying to make a play on balls in the air — which may sound strange as he’s playing the strong safety role, not free safety.
PJ: The Bengals have the pleasure of being the only team to face the Browns after losses yet this season. Despite being 4-2 the tone the players have taken seems to be frustrated following a poor showing against the Steelers. Do you expect this team to continue its trend of taking out losses on inferior teams or is this team going through something deeper?
CP: I don’t think the issue is too deep. In Week 1, it was simply a matter of a new team trying to come together in a shortened offseason, and the Browns were facing a Ravens team that was a well-oiled machine. Things just snowballed. During Cleveland’s four-game winning streak, they found an identity with their running game. Against the Steelers, they were just way more physical from start to finish. Pittsburgh defends the run well, and you have other factors like right guard Wyatt Teller and running back Nick Chubb being out. While the team might be able to get away with Teller and Chubb being out against lesser competition, it didn’t work against a front seven that is as scary as Pittsburgh’s is.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game?
CP: I think it would be naïve to think Cleveland will walk in and run the ball as easily against the Bengals as they did back in Week 2, both due to players being injured and the Bengals being more prepared. However, the Browns will definitely have a chip on their shoulder — they don’t like how they’ve been battered by Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and they’ll be able to their game plan this week of running the ball and opening up the passing game with play action passes. Joe Mixon being out for the Bengals is a big loss for them — I like Cleveland to come out and look to pull out all the stops to not only win, but keep the foot on the pedal. In two games this season, they’ve scored 7 points or less. In the other 4 games, they’ve scored 30+ points. They’ll be on the high side this week: Browns 31, Bengals 17.
Thanks again to Chris Pokorny for taking the time out to answer our questions. If you want to find more of his work or Browns coverage, head over to Dawgs by Nature.