Key numbers to watch ahead of Bengals-Browns
The Bengals head to Cleveland today for their Thursday night matchup against the Browns. Both teams are trying to shake off the bitter taste of defeat and avoid an 0-2 hole. It's a momentous day for Ohio sports fans, as limited spectators will be allowed at a major Ohio sporting event for the first time since early-March.
Cincinnati leads the all-time series 51-42. The Bengals have won nine of the last 13 games. This is as close as it gets to a "must win" this early in the season. Teams that start 0-2 have only gone on to clinch a playoff berth 10 percent of the time since 2002. That is just one of a few key numbers shaping the storylines for Thursday night. Let's dive into a few more.
Baker Mayfield has experienced the full rollercoaster of being a young NFL quarterback, but it's been all downhill over the past year. Sunday was no different, Mayfield went 21-of-39 for 189 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and seven pass breakups.
Mayfield tied for the league lead in batted passes last season with 15 and continued to put the ball in dangerous spots against Baltimore. Calais Campbell batted three passes down at the line, continuing the conversation about Mayfield's stature. At 6-1, with average athleticism, Mayfield is struggling to see his playmakers downfield. The play-action rollout scheme that Kevin Stefanski brought with him to Cleveland didn't help in Week 1.
Maybe it was a case of needing to get comfortable in a new system, but every year it's a new system in Cleveland. On top of that dysfunction, Mayfield is implementing new footwork into his mechanics. Carlos Dunlap didn't jump off the screen this past Sunday, but he must be frothing at the mouth after watching Campbell get his hands on three Mayfield passes.
When Bengals fans flipped on their favorite Joe Burrow highlight in anticipation of his arrival to the Queen City, almost every big moment came out of empty sets. Burrow and the offensive line on an island with five receivers in the pattern was LSU's calling card on the path to a National Championship.
The Tiger's execution up front paired with Burrow's ability to see the field made up the perfect mix for a 60 touchdown season. Zac Taylor and his staff would've been foolish to not test it out at some point this year and they did just that against the Chargers. The Bengals ran out five-wide on seven plays Sunday, including three times on the final drive of the game. Seven times in 45 pass plays isn't much, but outside of the Buffalo trying it once, the Bengals were the only team in the league to use it in the opening week.
Burrow found his rhythm on their final drive against the Chargers and also scored the Bengals lone touchdown in a five-wide set. It would be shocking to see Burrow consistently struggle from deep like he did Sunday, going 0-of-5 on throws 20-plus yards downfield. Empty set deep shots were a weapon in Baton Rouge and should become one in Cincinnati. Burrow got a taste at how disruptive an NFL pass rush can be, but don't be shocked if the offense pulls off a big play out of empty on Thursday.
The Browns sport the best 1-2 punch at running back in the league and they showed why on Sunday. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 132 yards and 5.7 yards per carry. Baltimore was outgained on the ground for just the third time since the start of last season.
After allowing the Chargers to control the game on the ground, the Bengals can't afford to let that happen Thursday. Mayfield is struggling to pick up this offense and one thing that tends to translate week to week is a strong running game. The Bengals have a few injuries to navigate on the interior of their defensive line.
D.J. Reader left the field for a drive in the third quarter on Sunday due to cramps. Los Angeles took full advantage, riding the ground game all the way to the game-tying touchdown.
The Chargers went one-dimensional after the run stuffer went down, calling seven runs to three passes en route to paydirt. Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley are solid backs, but they are a far cry from what awaits in Cleveland.
The Ravens gave Lou Anarumo a nice blueprint ahead of the Bengals matchup with the Browns. Baltimore smothered receivers not named Jarvis Landry to the tune of six first downs passing and an 18 percent success rate according to Sharp Football Stats.
The Ravens took away a lot of the multiple tight end passing looks that the Browns system relies on and forced Mayfield into bad throws to Odell Beckham Jr. The star receiver caught 3-of-10 targets for 22 yards. Mayfield connected with David Njoku three times for 50 yards, but he landed on injured reserve earlier this week. Mayfield was 1-of-3 for five yards targeting his other tight ends
The Bengals' ability to take away other weapons and force Mayfield to lock onto Beckham is a big factor in Thursday night's game.
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