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The good, the bad and the ugly in Bengals’ 30-35 loss to Browns on TNF

At least one offensive lineman is playing pretty well.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Even though things weren’t going right for the Bengals throughout much of Thursday night, they were in the contest until the final seconds. Regardless, moral victories are hollow and the team is 0-2 to start the Joe Burrow era.

Here are the best and worst facets of the Bengals’ 30-35 loss to the Browns in Week 2.

The good

Joe Burrow:

From almost the get-go, the No. 1 overall pick was sharp. He was harassed by poor protection and hasn’t been able to lean on a run game, but he’s come as advertised.

He set a rookie record with 37 completions, while tossing for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Though he fumbled the ball away on a sack, he didn’t throw an interception, which was quite a feat, given his 61 attempts.

And, even with the Bengals’ gigantic struggles on defense, Burrow kept Cincinnati in the game until the very end. This team officially has its next franchise quarterback, folks.

Jonah Williams’ flashes of brilliance:

Though his Pro Football Focus score may indicate a little differently, Williams has shown us that he’s got the stuff to be the Bengals’ next great left tackle. He was called for a ticky-tack hold versus Cleveland and had a couple of other issues with inside protection, but there was a lot to like on film for the second straight week.

There was an instance where a blitzing defensive back would have likely crushed Burrow in the pocket, but Williams came to the rescue. He peeled off of Myles Garrett, clipped the blitzer and then took out Garrett. It allowed Burrow to climb the pocket and stopped a potentially disastrous play.

Williams needs to gain some consistency, but his future looks bright. After all, he’s only had two career starts to this point.

Special teams:

The Bengals’ special teams unit was solid in Week 1, with the exception of Randy Bullock’s huge miss on a game-tying kick at the end of regulation. However, the veteran kicker atoned well this week, nailing all three field goal and extra point attempts, accounting for 12 of the team’s 30 total points.

Additionally, Brandon Wilson had two big kickoff returns leading to 10 Bengals’ points because of great field position. The Browns also kicked one out of bounds in the third quarter for fear he’d pop another big play, leading to another three points for Cincinnati.

Throw in another solid night’s work from Kevin Huber and Darrin Simmons had a lot to be pleased with this week.

The bad

Chemistry between A.J. Green and Joe Burrow:

It’s just not there...yet? On the opening drive, Burrow floated a long ball to Green that went slightly out of bounds with Green making a valiant effort.

In the fourth quarter, Burrow hit Green in the end zone, who didn’t come down with it because one of his arms was being held. In all, Green had just three catches for 29 yards on 13 targets. Yikes.

Chances are things will get better between this tandem as the year goes on. After all, we’re talking about a rookie signal-caller and a veteran who has missed considerable time the past few years and in this training camp.

Officiating:

The aforementioned missed pass interference call and questionable hold on Williams were just a couple of examples of the many for the refs this week. They too are operating without preseason work, but there have been some egregious calls or lack thereof.

Even Cleveland had a legitimate beef on a should-have-been P.I. call on William Jackson as he grabbed Odell Beckham, Jr. There were also booth reviews on a couple of goal line plays they initially got wrong.

The crew didn’t determine the outcome of this one, per se, but one can’t ignore these calls.

Inability to run the ball:

For the second straight week, the Cincinnati Bengals failed to have any big plays nor a semblance of consistency from their newly-minted running back, Joe Mixon. Of course, the Bengals are confident in Burrow, but it’s also a foregone conclusion that they want a stable running game for offensive balance.

Mixon had 16 carries for 46 yards (2.6 average), while Giovani Bernard had just one carry for three yards. Getting the run game going is critical for multiple reasons, but primarily to limit the hits on their prized signal-caller.

A lack of big plays:

The biggest offensive play from scrimmage was the 23-yard touchdown to C.J. Uzomah. Unfortunately, this is a theme that carried over from Week 1 when the Bengals failed to capitalize on some open big-play opportunities.

A major part of the reason why the big plays haven’t been there is Burrow’s need to get the ball out quickly because of poor protection. The lack of a preseason to form cohesion could definitely be another.

Regardless, the offensive line has to play better and guys like John Ross and A.J. Green need to start creating chunk yardage opportunities for the rookie quarterback.

The ugly

Big picture, the offensive line:

As has been a theme since the 2017 offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals’ line remains a work in progress. While we saw Andrew Whitworth be the highest-ranked offensive tackle by PFF standards for Week 1, Zac Taylor is trying to figure out the formula to best protect the franchise quarterback.

Missed assignments and close to double-digit hits on Burrow by Cleveland are highly-concerning going forward. Fred Johnson was given the nod at right tackle because of health issues to Xavier Su’a-Filo and Billy Price and that came with mixed results.

Bobby Hart continues to have a couple of game-shaping mistakes, coupled with otherwise solid play, while Williams and Trey Hopkins are still climbing their way to above-average. The line showed great improvement towards the end of the last couple of years and that could be the case again this year, but the team can’t afford to allow Burrow to take the hits he has through two games.

The defense:

Cincinnati’s defense allowed just 16 points last week, giving the team ample opportunities to win. It was a completely different story against the Browns.

One could say that it was simply poor guessing by Lou Anarumo, in terms of dialing up defenses for the run or pass, but Cleveland routinely gouged his unit on the ground and Baker Mayfield made huge plays off of play-action.

In the first two games of the season, Cincinnati has allowed 370 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. This, after the team added three interior defensive linemen (Mike Daniels, D.J. Reader and Christian Covington) and five linebackers (Austin Calitro, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Logan Wilson, Josh Bynes, Markus Bailey; though Calitro was traded for Covington) this offseason.

Yes, the injuries to Daniels and Atkins were crucial and the team was on a short week going on the road, but these stat lines are downright inexcusable.

C.J. Uzomah’s injury:

Just a shame for No. 87. He began to find a nice niche in the offense and grabbed Burrow’s first pro touchdown pass. He had eight total catches for 87 yards in the first two games and the Bengals lose a big target.

Furthermore, Uzomah is a high character guy, who, by all accounts, worked really hard to emerge as a weapon after Tyler Eifert’s departure. Best of luck to Uzomah as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles and enters his final year of his contract in 2021.

Another primetime loss:

It’s a narrative until it isn’t. A lot of folks don’t believe in a “primetime curse”, but some Bengals players noted the upped intensity in primetime games themselves heading into Thursday Night Football. Of course, Burrow played it cool when asked about it, but this was an opportunity to quiet critics who bash the team’s inability to win on the biggest stages.

Marvin Lewis was notorious for having his teams exude poor performances on primetime T.V., so the move was made to Taylor to remedy this and other issues. Then, Andy Dalton was shed for Burrow and the team (not Burrow) collapsed once again on a big stage.

Cincinnati has an opportunity to right this ship later in the year against Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football and it’s very likely this gets better as more years pass in the Burrow era, but if the team ever wants to hoist a Lombardi Trophy, they need to learn how to win these games.