The dust has settled, the emotions have died down, and the team has refocused. Week 1 ended in gut-wrenching fashion for the Cincinnati Bengals, but hold true—Week 2 is already here. The Bengals kick off this season of Thursday Night Football tonight with their in-state rival and AFC North foe, the Cleveland Browns.
Joe Burrow’s NFL debut wasn’t one for the ages, but there were certainly positive signs. He missed some throws and made some mistakes but showcased his leadership and moxie during a two-minute drill late in the fourth quarter that resulted in what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass had AJ Green not been flagged for offensive pass interference. If you’re looking for a dose of Burrow analysis, I’d recommend reading Paul Denher Jr.’s piece on The Athletic about the Bengals’ usage of 5-wide sets and then checking out NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger’s brief film review of Burrow’s performance:
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) September 14, 2020
Now that Burrow’s career is one week older and one week wiser, it will be very interesting to see how he looks coming off a short week of preparation.
But before we preview tonight’s matchup, let’s catch up on some Bengals news from this week.
Kicker Austin Seibert was claimed off waivers
With Randy Bullock’s status in question, Seibert could end up kicking against his old team on Thursday night.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 15, 2020
On Tuesday, the Bengals claimed former Cleveland kicker Austin Seibert. Zac Taylor put any rumors of Seibert replacing kicker Randy Bullock to bed, so it seems this signing is merely precautionary. Bullock turned up on the injury report this week after injuring his calves during the shanked kick on Sunday, so if for some reason he is unable to go tonight, Seibert will be the Bengals’ man.
Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo placed on IR
Bengals make the Seibert move official, place Xavier Su'a-Filo on IR. https://t.co/NtXICNQv9u
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) September 15, 2020
The Bengals’ starting right guard suffered an ankle injury in last week’s game and will now miss the next three weeks as he heals. That means it’s Billy Price time on the offensive line, as the former first-round pick will have a shot to turn his career around in Su’a-Filo’s absence.
Words of the Week
Joe Burrow, when asked about one takeaway he had upon reviewing the film of his first NFL game:
"The thing about the NFL is there are 2 or 3 plays that dictate the outcome of the game… I'm just focused on being ready for when those opportunities present themselves."
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) September 15, 2020
Joe Mixon, when asked if Joe Burrow reminds him of Baker Mayfield (his college teammate):
— Lindsay Patterson (@LndsPatterson) September 15, 2020
Joe Burrow, when asked if this game means more because it’s in primetime:
— Lindsay Patterson (@LndsPatterson) September 15, 2020
That seems like a great segue to this week’s preview. Let’s talk the Battle of Ohio, Round One.
Four things to know
1. Burrow became the 13th consecutive QB drafted #1 overall to lose his first start. Only four went on to win their second start. For the second week in a row, the Bengals’ QB1 is out to buck a trend.
2. Injuries are abundant for both teams. The Bengals’ defensive line looked sharp in Week 1, but it will again be without its leader tonight, as Geno Atkins remains hampered by a shoulder injury. Also on the list is fellow defensive tackle Mike Daniels and safety Shawn Williams. The Browns have a laundry list of players on the injury report, the majority of which are questionable to play.
Three Browns starting offensive linemen are questionable to play vs. the Bengals: LT Jedrick Willis, Jr., RT Jack Conklin and C JC Tretter. Same goes for WR Jarvis Landry and DE Olivier Vernon.
CB Greedy Williams, CB Kevin Johnson and LB Mack Wilson have all been ruled out.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 16, 2020
The most notable question marks for Cleveland is rookie first-round pick Jedrick Willis Jr., RT Jack Conklin and WR Jarvis Landry. Conklin and Willis are a huge part of the Browns’ revamped line and Landry is the heart and soul of their offense. If all three are inactive, it would be a major blow to Cleveland’s offense.
As of Thursday morning, Landry appears to be set to go, however.
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) September 17, 2020
3. The Browns’ annual drama is already underway. A report from Mike Francesca surfaced early Tuesday morning that Cleveland was actively shopping Odell Beckham Jr. Whether it’s valid or not, one thing is clear: Baker and Odell don’t have a strong connection. OBJ only had 23 yards in Week 1, the fourth time in his 17-game Browns career that he failed to record more than 30 receiving yards. In his 59 career games with the New York Giants, Beckham only did that twice. In games versus AFC North opponents, he’s only averaged three catches for 42 yards. It’s early this season, but after getting blown out by the Ravens, it feels like the Browns season is somehow on the brink. Playmakers are frustrated and Baker has struggled. In an odd kind of way, tonight seems like a must-win for Cleveland. If not for anything else but to simply hold the team together another week.
4. Joe Mixon has consistently carved up the Browns. In his six career games versus Cleveland, Mixon has totaled over 150 yards five times. He had a rare fumble last Sunday but spoke about how eager he is to get back on the field tonight. The fourth-year running back has a fire under him after causing the costly mistake against LA, and will look to make up for it this week in a historically favorable matchup.
Three matchups to watch
1. Bengals OL vs. Myles Garrett: Last week it was Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram blowing the doors off Bobby Hart and company, and this week it doesn’t get much easier. The former #1 overall pick is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line, and once again Hart will have a tough challenge keeping Burrow upright. Things went pretty horribly in the first half of the Chargers game, but the o-line turned it around in the second. We shall see if they can have a better start tonight.
2. AJ Green vs. Denzel Ward: Green showed he still had it last week, as he hauled in five receptions on nine targets for 51 yards. He could have had two touchdowns, if not for an unfortunate overthrow from Burrow and a dicey pass interference call on the final drive. Those numbers were mostly against stellar cornerback Casey Hayward, and Green will face another worthy adversary tonight in Denzel Ward. The former first-round pick has five career interceptions and runs a 4.32 40-yard dash. He’s a young star and will present a challenge for whoever he lines up across from tonight, which will presumably be AJ Green. How Green’s veteran skillset matches up with Ward’s raw talent will be very exciting to watch.
3. Bengals DL vs. Browns OL: The Browns spent big money trying to fix their offensive line this offseason, bringing in free agent tackle Jack Conklin and drafting Alabama standout Jedrick Wills Jr. But in Week 1, the Ravens were able to make Baker Mayfield uncomfortable. Some of this pressure contributed to Mayfield’s two interceptions, and if the Bengals are able to replicate that, they will be in great shape tonight. Carl Lawson, Sam Hubbard, and Carlos Dunlap will be pivotal in putting the Bengals in a position to succeed.
Two names you’ll hear
1. Billy Price, Bengals OL
The Bengals 2018 first-round pick entered this season as the backup right guard. Originally drafted as a center, it’s been rough sledding for Billy Price when it comes to catching on with Zac Taylor’s staff. Last season, he lost positional battles to a 4th round pick in Michael Jordan and a former undrafted free agent in Trey Hopkins. However, thanks to Xavier Su’a-Filo’s injury in Week 1, Price has been vaulted into a starting position against Cleveland. He’ll line up across from a talented interior defensive linemen in Sheldon Richardson, but have a chance to carve out a more permanent role for himself should he live up to his first-round pedigree. It may be the first time in a year or so Price hasn’t had to worry about someone taking his spot, although Shaq Calhoun, a free agent guard acquired via waivers before Week 1, waits in the wings should things go even more south. Perhaps the peace of mind that comes from knowing he has a starting spot all to himself will free Price up on the field. Either way, tonight ought to serve as an indicator of what’s to come of his 2020 season.
2. Kareem Hunt
The Browns may have the best running back duo in the entire NFL. Nick Chubb is known for his ability to power through defenders and gain tough yards, while Kareem Hunt is electric in space and possesses great hands. During the last eight games of the 2019 season, Hunt split time with Chubb in the backfield and impressed—so much so that he was rewarded with a two-year, $10 million extension before the 2020 season started. In Week 1, he got two more carries than Chubb, outran him by 12 yards, and caught four passes. It seems like new head coach Kevin Stefanski and company have plans to turn Hunt into the team’s feature back and use Chubb as a complimentary piece, and this week could go a long way in reinforcing that idea. Either way, the Bengals defense will have its hands full trying to contain not just Hunt, but Chubb also.
One way the Bengals can win
This one is simple: Create turnovers. The Browns have a much more explosive offense than the Chargers, but they also have a more reckless style of play. Mayfield isn’t afraid to try and fit passes into tight windows or let his receivers try to make plays, which can lead to highlight-reel catches but also foolish turnovers. If the Bengals defense can get after Baker and fluster the Cleveland QB, the team has shown a tendency to unwind. Now, that being said, if Baker hits some big plays early and builds some confidence, the Browns could steamroll the Bengals. I think it all comes down to forcing turnovers and causing the Browns to beat themselves, which we saw happen in the Week 17 Battle of Ohio last year.
Tonight’s a special game. Over the last decade, the Bengals have gone 6-16 in primetime games. But this year marks a new chapter, and tonight is the primetime debut of Burrow and the new-look Bengals. Stars shine brightest under the lights, and tonight we’ll discover what kind of lumens we’re working with.
8:20 EST kickoff on NFL Network. See you there.