This Sunday was arguably (if not definitively) the worst game in Joe Burrow’s illustrious pro career. And, with another tough divisional game on deck, Cincinnati can ill-afford to fall to 0-2 overall and in the division.
Here are the best and worst facets of the Bengals’ 24-3 loss to the Browns on Sunday.
The offense was largely woeful on Sunday, save for No. 28’s nifty moves on limited touches. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and created a lot of first-contact misses by would-be tacklers.
He was also the team’s second-leading receiver on the day with three catches for 17 yards (obviously not saying much) and was one of the few offensive players who showed up Sunday.
One bright spot for the Bengals was Joe Mixon. Thought he looked healthy, shifty, powerful, and explosive. Made the most of his opportunities and looks good in this revamped run game. pic.twitter.com/SM3XPf4dxh— mike (@bengals_sans) September 11, 2023
Winning the Turnover Battle:
One of the elements of the Browns’ recent domination of this series has been in the lopsided turnover margin and/or just the general creation of timely ones. That wasn’t the case on Sunday.
In fact, the Cincinnati defense continuously bailed out the offense, including a turnover apiece in each half. Both should have provided enough spark to get the Bengals’ offense back on track and make this one a game.
The pass rush:
Cincinnati got after Deshaun Watson on Sunday, notching three sacks and five total quarterback hits. Trey Hendrickson (one of the three sacks) also had a better pressure rate than Myles Garrett in the game, which is saying something.
And while Germaine Pratt isn’t known as a pass-rush savant, he had a great early sack on Watson (and a solid performance all-around) in this one. Cincinnati was able to frustrate Watson early in this one.
The secondary and its youngsters:
Cam Taylor-Britt allowed just two catches in this one, while Chidobe Awuzie looked solid bouncing back from last year’s knee injury and nabbed a fumble recovery. Nick Scott co-led the team in tackles (which may or may not be a good thing when it’s a safety doing so), while Dax Hill grabbed a timely interception in his first start.
You can even throw in DJ Turner, who had nice plays in rotational duty at corner. The promise and athleticism of this high potential, albeit inexperienced, group showed out on Sunday.
Posting double-digit punts in a game is never ideal, especially from a rookie in his first start. And while Brad Robbins popped a couple of kicks that had his trademark hang time, others were teeth-grinding, including the 18-yard net punt in the second half.
Chris Evans had a nice opening kickoff return, but others were lackluster. Charlie Jones did have a 15-yard punt return, but he also fielded one at his own 6-yard line during the onslaught of poor positional starts for the Bengals.
Offensive line inconsistencies:
Orlando Brown, Jr. played well enough in his debut, but the rest of the line had their ups and downs. The guards were two of the biggest problem areas on Sunday, with Cordell Volson netting a 39.1 overall Pro Football Focus score and Alex Cappa rocking a 41.0 score.
Myles Garrett and Nick Chubb strike again:
It’s always about stopping these two and, yet again, Cincinnati couldn’t do it. Garrett had what became the door-slamming moment with a sack on fourth down, while Chubb had his sixth 100-yard rushing performance in 10 games.
While this could be in “ugly” territory, these two weren’t necessarily the ultimate reason the team lost, nor was it why they couldn’t even keep things competitive.
Failing to capitalize on positive turnover margin:
As mentioned above, the Bengals’ defense did a good job of bailing the offense out of their continuous poor play. When you’ve got a plus-two turnover margin on your opponent’s home field (and one who’s had your number lately), you have to take advantage.
How many points did the Cincinnati offense net from those opportunities? Goose egg. Zero. And that should be one of the telling signs of what happened in this one.
The passing game and its cast of characters:
Since Joe Burrow joined the Bengals in 2020, I don’t believe we’ve had him on the list of “ugly” once. But a career-worst performance will do that.
Burrow threw for just four more completions than Brad Robbins had punts (14 to 10), while the offense sputtered to a ridiculously low 82 passing yards (67 net). Watching the Bengals’ offense on Sunday was downright painful, with errors and inefficiency littering the game tape.
The weather affecting everything, including situational decisions:
Whether you’re a star like Burrow, Watson, or a scrub like me hovering over a keyboard, it’s extremely hard to throw a wet football with any semblance of effectiveness. Grip, power, trajectory, and everything in between gets altered with inclement weather.
The ability of both quarterbacks weren’t the only thing affected. This caused a field position battle to ensue, with out-of-the-norm situational decisions being made. Case in point was the first-half punt when the Bengals were at the Cleveland 38-yard line facing a manageable 4th-and-3.
The usually-aggressive Zac Taylor ceded to the weather and opted to pin the Browns deep in their own territory. Unfortunately, the move resulted in a punt that went into the end zone, rendering the decision borderline useless. It was just one of a few instances of what could be deemed as “clouded judgment” brought on by the rain and gloomy day.