The Cincinnati Bengals marched into Cleveland week 1 for the season opener and looked fine defensively. Normally the Browns would play bully ball and overpower the Bengals offensive and defensive lines in the trenches which was not the case early on Sunday afternoon in Cleveland. In previous podcasts I pounded the table on upgrading the offensive line for the Bengals especially in the AFC North where games come down to dominance in the trenches, where you play games often in inclement weather, where finesse with the passing game is difficult, especially in difficult weather conditions.
How to know how your team is fairing in football is easy, do not focus on the skill positions but put your eyes on the line of scrimmage and see if the defensive line is penetrating the offensive line in passing situations or if the offensive line is creating a pocket that the quarterback can step up in and throw the ball to receivers. What I watched along the offensive line was encouraging this afternoon, but I did notice a weak link, Jonah Williams, who was beaten like a drum by Za’Darius Smith. Orlando Brown Jr. on the other-hand neutralized Myles Garrett for the most part. Garrett had a few hurries here and there, but this is why you add Orlando Brown Jr., you can leave him on an island and try and double team elsewhere if your offensive line is weak. The Bengals should have chipped more using Drew Sample and the running backs to help Jonah Williams out. The experiment at right tackle with Jonah Williams begs for either Jackson Carman to step in, or someone else to fill in behind him.
The Bengals struggles on offense continued, but Brian Callahan and Zac Taylor did the Bengals zero favors in the passing game. A lot, if not all, of the receiving routes were schemed to the sidelines where the Browns overly aggressive secondary could use the boundary as an extra defender. In a game where Burrow did not have preseason reps, timing routes were a bad idea, and throwing to the sidelines in rainy conditions on the shores of Lake Erie. We did not see enough of the route tree over the middle using larger receivers like Irv Smith Jr. or Tee Higgins as possession receivers over the middle to keep the chains moving. The run game was effective, the Bengals offensive line moved people very well and that is a weakness in the Browns defense being predicated on rushing the passer. The Browns have trouble stopping the run game which the Bengals went away from or got content with stretch run plays instead of continuing to run between the center and guards where Mixon, Evans and Williams were effective.
Defensively the Bengals were stout up the middle forcing the Browns and Nick Chubb to get to the outside offensive tackle to have success running the football. From a defensive end perspective for the Bengals, Trey Hendrickson is the Bengals pass rushing defensive end. Sam Hubbard normally sets the edge and plays contain on the backside not allowing running backs to have the cut back lanes to run through. Sam Hubbard struggled setting the edge for Chubb or staying home for contain as Deshaun Watson gouged the Bengals run defense on quarterback power plays to the outside where Hubbard should have set the edge and funneled the run back inside where linebackers could make plays. The secondary created turnovers, but the Bengals played a lot more zone it seemed than man-to-man coverage. I would have liked to have seen more press coverage jamming Browns receivers at the line of scrimmage and re-routing the receivers to throw off the timing between Deshaun Watson and his pass catchers. The Bengals have room to improve offensively, defensively and also with their special teams where Money Mac was not so “money” missing an important field goal for the Bengals. Charlie Jones as a kick returner, although a rookie, left a lot to be desired. You can not run sideways, make one cut and get up field north and south. The Bengals will have to do some soul searching with tough practices ahead to get back on track in The Jungle against Baltimore next week.