It was a simpler time when the Cincinnati Bengals last hosted the Cleveland Browns. Paul Brown Stadium was at the very least somewhat packed with fans, the Bengals had the No. 1 pick in the draft locked up, and Joe Mixon’s health was as strong as Carlos Dunlap’s relationship with the coaching staff.
The wrath of 2020 has since gotten to the orange and black.
Today’s game means a lot more than your usual Week 7 contest. Cincinnati’s Week 2 loss to Cleveland is one of their four losses on the season. A loss this afternoon would give the Browns their third season-sweep over the Bengals this century. The tide in the rivalry has already turned to Cleveland’s favor, but this would be a devastating blow for Mike Brown’s team.
These are the players that need to play well or just play better than how they did during the
The absence of Mixon will give Bernard the majority of touches at running back, but how much will Bernard dominate that market share? Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams will both be active and at least one of them will be coming in for Bernard semi-regularly throughout the day. Bernard’s duties as a pass protector will not be delegated elsewhere though, as his work protecting against blitzes from a talented Browns pass rush will be critical.
The Matchup: Sheldon Richardson — When Bernard has the ball in his hands, he’ll be on the lookout for Richardson up the middle. Back in Week 2, Richardson led the Browns’ defense in defensive stops with four and was a consistent presence in the backfield.
Before C.J. Uzomah tore his achilles against the Browns, Sample saw just two targets come his way. He got seven more thrown his way after Uzomah left the game. Sample’s 45 yards from that game were a career-high before he racked up 47 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks later. In the three games since Week 2 aside from that game, Sample has just 23 yards on three receptions and four targets. Will Joe Burrow get his tight end more involved against this Browns defense again?
The Matchup: B.J. Goodson — The Browns’ middle linebacker typically matches up with the opposing tight end, and did so five times against Uzomah and Sample in Week 2.
Not much has been said about the Bengals’ center this year, and for good reason. Hopkins has remained his steady self in pass protection and has validated the franchise’s investment in him last season. The run game is usually what gives Hopkins some minor fits and he had his worst performance in that regard this season against the Browns. He received a run blocking grade of 39.0 from Pro Football Focus for that week. The offense may not be running the ball much today, but Hopkins has some incentive to improve nonetheless.
The Matchup: Larry Ogunjobi — The Browns’ underrated 1-technique was the most responsible for Hopkins’ struggles. Ogunjobi is a straight beast at the point of attack. He’ll keep Hopkins busy all day long.
Nobody expected Xavier Williams to start at defensive tackle last week against the Indianapolis Colts, after all, Williams just joined the team earlier that week. With that in mind, what’s stopping Daniels from starting over Williams this week? Daniels represents the Bengals’ first experience with activating a player off of Injured Reserve after the minimum three-week period, and do they sure as Hell need him. The defense is still easing in Geno Atkins but needs a spark in the pass-rushing department. Daniels is their best chance at getting that from the interior.
The Matchup: Chris Hubbard — Browns RG Wyatt Teller will be sidelined for the second-straight week, so Hubbard will start in his place like he did last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The difference between the two is pretty stark considering how well Teller has played this season, so Daniels has a good matchup in his first week back if he spends time on the left side of the defensive line.
Losing Mixon is a bummer for the offense, but losing William Jackson III is a potential disaster for the defense. With Jackson still recovering from a concussion, Sims will have to play in his shoes against an offense that torched Jackson and the rest of the Bengals’ secondary back in September. Sims can’t replicate what Jackson gives them, but it’s important that he keeps things in front of him at all cost. One big play can destroy the Bengals in what will likely be a close game.
The Matchup: Odell Beckham Jr. — This is the guy that can create that big play. Beckham Jr. has put up and 301 yards and three touchdowns in four career games against the Bengals, and he burned Jackson a couple times in their last meeting. Sims has a tough task today in limiting an explosive receiver in Beckham.