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5 Bengals to watch for on TNF vs. Browns

The Bengals need their two cornerstone offensive players to play significantly better in Week 2.

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals have their first divisional matchup on Thursday against the Cleveland Browns. It’s the first road game for the team and for Joe Burrow’s career, but these Browns still appear to be ways away from competing for anything. As are the Bengals based on their own Week 1 showing.

There’s something to be said about making teams play on Thursday night this year when COVID-19 is still omnipresent. But as some Bengals players put it this week, it is a chance to get that bad taste out of their mouths.

For these five players, that is especially the case.

Joe Mixon

If the fumble—which he’s watched 50 times this week—was the only inadequate moment of Joe Mixon’s game against the Chargers, he probably wouldn’t have been the lowest-graded offensive player according to Pro Football Focus. Mixon struggled to create positive plays for the Bengals on the ground, regardless of the blocking. -0.26 expected points added per play on first and second-down runs only added to the offense’s struggles. And just two targets? And none beyond the first quarter? That’s not exactly on him, but if he’s pedestrian on the ground, you’d like to see him used more effectively through the air.

The dream team for Mixon to bounce back against is the Browns. He’s rushed for 465 yards against Cleveland since 2018; 252 of those yards came after contact, and that was just from last year alone. On a short week, it wouldn’t be too surprising if they tried to get Mixon going early. And if he plays like he normally does against the Browns, it may be the right call.

Tyler Boyd

A quiet storyline through two quarters on Sunday: why wasn’t Tyler Boyd thrown at? His four receptions, 33 yards and three first downs were all recorded after the 7:00 minute mark in the third quarter passed. As expected, Chris Harris Jr. held him in check when they matched up in the slot, but for being the guy Burrow connected with this offseason, you’d expect more involvement from him early on.

Boyd should be able to get going earlier on Thursday. Browns’ slot cornerback Tavierre Thomas allowed a perfect 158.3 passer rating in coverage in Week 1 despite being targeted just three times. Thomas was a two-year special teams player before he was thrusted into the starting lineup last week for the Browns’ exploitable secondary. Boyd should have an easier time getting open for Burrow.

Bobby Hart

At some point, Bobby Hart has to be blocking for his job. HE HAS TO BE. Nothing about getting Burrow pressured six times a game from just him alone is good for the quarterback’s development. Everyone knew Joey Bosa was going to be tough for him to block for 36 snaps. There were even some good reps for Hart, but they can’t live with the bad reps for four more months.

Bosa at least rushed from the other side of the formation every once in a while. Myles Garrett stayed rushing against the Ravens’ right tackle Orlando Brown on Sunday. He’s likely going to stay there and take on Hart for 60 minutes. This may be the game that decides Hart’s immediate future with the team.

Christian Covington

Geno Atkins will be out again on Thursday and Mike Daniels will join him as well. Christian Covington’s 38 snaps played from Sunday indicates he is indeed the next man up. This Bengals defense—starved for bodies at defensive tackle—utilized a 3-technique and a 2i playing inside the guard’s shoulder for over 75% of their snaps on Sunday. D.J. Reader and Covington can realistically handle either spot and we might see them play a healthy amount of both on Thursday.

For all the Browns’ trouble against the Ravens, they were generating plenty of movement in run blocking thanks to the trio of LG Joel Bitonio, C JC Tretter, and RG Wyatt Teller. Covington’s no real threat as a pass-rusher, so his value will be tested when the Browns try to get Nick Chubb to carry the offense.

Darius Phillips

Many Bengals fans remember Phillips intercepting Baker Mayfield twice during last year’s Week 17 win. Those moments stick out more than the five receptions, 145 yards and touchdown allowed against Odell Beckham Jr. and Damion Ratley because the Bengals were victorious, but it’s a sobering reminder that Phillips lost as much as he won during that game.

Phillips is now coming off another up-and-down game after facing Chargers’ playmaking receiver Mike Williams, who racked 52 yards on just two catches against him. A rematch against Beckham Jr. will be a great test for Phillips, who now has LeShaun Sims to potentially worry about taking his starting spot.