After getting drubbed by the Baltimore Ravens in the first game of the season, there was pressure on the Cleveland Browns to go out and get a win against the Cincinnati Bengals, which they did.
The Browns needed a win any way they could get it, but they had a number of standout performers in this game. Some parts of their team looked good enough in this game to make it believable that they were stunned by the Ravens in week one.
Unfortunately, there are some real issues that continue to be incredibly problematic and will hold this team back going forward.
1. The Browns offense was outstanding. After questions around everything from Baker Mayfield to Odell Beckham to getting Austin Hooper more involved in the offense and two of those three things happened.
Mayfield's accuracy was excellent and the ball came out cleaner. There were still some points where he hesitated, but he really did a nice job with decisions and put receivers in position to succeed consistently. This was the 2018 version of Mayfield fans had been waiting for to show up.
Odell Beckham not only produced a 43-yard touchdown on a stretch naked rollout, but he caught a pass underneath that he was able to take for 19 yards. He just looked like the player the Browns thought they were getting in the trade. There were a few questionable non-calls with him as well.
The Browns did work to get Hooper more involved in this game. They doubled his targets
2. The offensive line continues to be impressive
Jack Conklin was listed as questionable all week and despite being active, he did not play. Whether it's the coaching, the system, health or some combination of all three, Chris Hubbard was better in this game than any he played last season. He did not give up pressure in the passing game and was a good positional blocker running the ball.
Wyatt Teller has gotten far better. More comfortable in year two after swapping guard spots last year, he is showcasing significantly more power than he did last year in the run. Teller has always been weight room strong, but often proved underwhelming with his functional strength. So far, this year, he's been an earth mover.
Jedrick Wills played and got better. The Bengals were down at the 3-tech, but they had everyone else going and save for a goal line stand the Bengals had, they were able to protect Mayfield and impose their will.
J.C. Tretter and Joel Bitonio are great. That's all that needs said.
3. The linebackers and secondary continue to struggle
The Browns are now down 4 starters with Jacob Phillips out in addition to Grant Delpit, Kevin Johnson and Greedy Williams, so some of this is expected. But if the defensive line doesn't get to the quarterback quickly, they leave huge windows open.
Whether it's a health situation with M.J. Stewart or something else, it's confounding how much Tavierre Thomas plays in the slot. He gives everything he has and that's part of what makes him so good on special teams. Unfortunately, he never covers anyone and opposing teams look for him to attack. It's a good thing he can tackle because he has to every time he's targeted.
The Browns really need Johnson and Williams to get healthy and Ronnie Harrison to get acclimated, because the saving grace for the Browns defense against the Bengals was a defensive line brutalizing Joe Burrow.
4. Injuries are already a big problem
Browns were down a total of 5 starters just on defense before the game started. Olivier Vernon didn't play and then they lost Adrian Clayborn to a hip against the Bengals. Conklin didn't play, but was active in case of emergency. David Njoku is on injured reserve with an MCL issue.
The Browns haven't suffered a back-breaking injury to this point, but they are simply running out of players and their depth is already getting utilized.
5. The defensive line was great, but they have to be to win
Clayborn had 2 sacks before he left with an injury. Vernon didn't play.
Myles Garrett had the sack fumble, which was a game-changing play, but he generated a ton of pressure against double teams as well.
Sheldon Richardson was dominant, showcasing the ability he's always flashed since he came into the league. It's never been a question if he could do it, but it's a question of consistency. This was the player that was a real problem for the offense throughout training camp.
Porter Gustin stepped in and stepped up. He looked more than up to the task getting reps at defensive end. He's the fourth defensive end on this team, but he was great in camp.
Larry Ogunjobi continues to be an active player in the middle. The Browns defensive line is fast and his quickness at the nose is a huge asset.