The Cincinnati Bengals will get their first crack at the Cleveland Browns this season. They have victories against the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, so keeping up their AFC North winning streak could go a long way with the eventual standings for this division. The Bengals are currently 2.5-point favorites against the Browns, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
We caught up with Dawgs by Nature’s Chris Pokorny to get his perspective on this Sunday’s matchup.
Patrick Judis: We have to start off with the low down on the Odell Beckham situation. What the heck is going on, and who are some pass catchers to watch out for in his absence?
Chris Pokorny: What’s funny is that I feel like history is repeating itself a bit here. Bengals fans should remember that Beckham tore his ACL in last year’s game against the Bengals, and they actually sparked the offense to new heights as Baker Mayfield played looser and connected with receivers like Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. I’d expect those guys to be involved heavily this week, along with Jarvis Landry who will be hungry for a makeup game after having a fumble and dropped pass late in last week’s game. Peoples-Jones is probably the receiver to watch the most; he was just getting hot again this season, but then suffered an injury a few weeks ago that sidelined him. It appears that he will return to face Cincinnati. Although Peoples-Jones had a quiet start to the season, he was the “star” of training camp, displaying great chemistry with Mayfield and making highlight-reel plays each practice.
Let’s get back to Beckham. He’s been with the team for three years now, and yet it feels like we’ve still had the same thoughts on him: “Oh, the chemistry isn’t quite there yet — it’s not Beckham’s fault, and it’s not really Mayfield’s fault either, but they should get it together at some point.” At some point, you just have to cut the cord and concede that he hasn’t been the best fit for this team or this system, for whatever reason. The sudden issue of him not being involved with the team any more stemmed from his father going on social media and basically trashing Mayfield by promoting a video that someone compiled of plays in which Beckham was open but not targeted. It’s too bad it hasn’t worked out for Beckham; but he’s also had two fourth down drops this year that could have changed the outcome of a game.
PJ: The Browns pass rushers may be some of the most dangerous on paper the Bengals will face this season. How has the Myles Garret and Jadeveon Clowney duo worked out in game this season?
CP: The duo has been great to see. One thing people have to understand is that you’re not going to see Garrett and Clowney in the backfield on every single play, unless the offensive gameplan is stupid. That’s what happened against the Chicago Bears, as they gave no help to their offensive tackles and allowed Garrett to have one-on-one situations all game long. Garrett commands a double or triple team, and even with that he’ll often generate a little bit of pressure. It’s up to the opposing quarterback to neutralize Garrett by getting rid of the ball fairly quickly. Clowney will have his fair share of pressures, but I think of him as more so a solid player in playing the run (i.e. disrupting a play by getting up into the backfield and forcing a change of direction). I know Burrow’s protection was not good last year, so I’m anxious to see how that group has progressed this offseason.
PJ: How has Baker Mayfield looked following his shoulder injury? Can he be relied on if the running game gets stalled?
CP: I have no doubt that Mayfield is feeling some pain in his left shoulder and is conscious of trying not to fall on it if he gets hit. In the grand scheme of things, though, I don’t think the shoulder injury is limiting him right now. He can still make all the throws he needs to, so yes, if the running game gets stalled, I think his arm is more than up for the task of getting into another gunslinger shootout with Burrow.
PJ: What is the weakness to the Browns defense?
CP: I’m pretty confident in the team’s run defense, and the pass defense is OK at times. However, the lapses in coverage from the safety position have stood out. It’s getting tougher to point them out, because they really only happened in two games this year: Weeks 5 and 6 against the Chargers and Cardinals, when 40+ points were allowed in both games. After Week 1, the other point totals the defense has allowed include: 21, 6, 7, 14, and 15 points, which isn’t too bad. In those two games, though, the safeties let a receiver run wide open, as in “no one within 30 yards of them” for a long touchdown pass. One hopes that those communication issues have been ironed out, but now each week, all I envision is a talented wide receiver just being lost by the defense and an easy score. Another weakness I’ve noticed with the Browns’ defense is that it seems they cannot stop teams when they go for it on 3rd-and-1 or 4th-and-1 situations.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game and your biggest X-Factor?
CP: You had to ask me for a prediction, didn’t you? I’m feeling sour after the loss to the Steelers. It’s hard to believe that an offense as talented as this one has not scored more than 17 points in each of their past three games. This is an offense that should be able to score 31+ points each week in their sleep. I was ready to pick the Bengals until I saw what the Jets did to their defense, and then it helped paint the hope in my mind that Cleveland can snap out of their funk with a big game against Cincinnati.
I am going with the Browns to pull off the road victory, and I think the X-Factor will be Baker Mayfield delivering in the face of adversity (i.e. the Beckham situation this week and the disappointing loss to Pittsburgh last week).
Thanks again to Chris Pokorny for taking the time out to answer our questions. If you’d like to see more of his work or get more caught up on the Browns before Sunday, check out Dawgs by Nature.