The Cleveland Browns defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in week two of the season, coming off a shellacking at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens in week and find themselves in the same position after being trounced by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Bengals have been a feisty, competitive team, save for their matchup with the Ravens who dominated them from start to finish. All of their other losses have been within one score. So while they are 1-4-1, they can't be taken lightly.
The problem for the Bengals is they have suffered some injuries and their talented rookie quarterback, Joe Burrow, is a human bruise. Their big free agent investment on the defensive line, D.J. Reader is out. He is a terrific space eater and was pretty good against the Browns. Xavier Williams isn't terrible, but he's certainly not Reader.
The Bengals have also been dealing with a growing issue when it comes to their coaching staff and communication with players. This season, they seem to be moving away from some of their players and simply don't feel like telling them.
Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Shawn Williams, John Ross, Auden Tate, Darius Phillips and A.J. Green have expressed their frustration publicly with some hoping for trades. It's a welcome sight that in division matchup, it's the opponent that looks dysfunctional. This newfound harmonious Browns organization is a refreshing adjustment.
And some of this frustration, particularly coming from three receiver is a result of Tee Higgins. Forgoing perhaps a path that would've been more prudent for Burrow's internal organs by drafting an offensive lineman in the second round with numerous options available, the Bengals gave their would be franchise quarterback a receiver.
Higgins is playing well, which helps to alleviate some of the frustration there. The game against the Browns was the first of his NFL career and after catching three passes for 35 yards, he has steadily improved, getting more opportunities and paying them off. This past week against the Colts, he caught six passes for 125 yards with one going for 67 yards. It stands to reason he will be a bigger part of their offense in this second matchup.
As it pertains to the offensive line, the Bengals front is... better? They still run into massive failures that have contributed to the 24 sacks Burrow has suffered this season, which doesn't account for the hits he takes when he gets rid of the ball, but on the whole, it's... less awful?
Their guards and right tackle continue to be a weakness. And while Jonah Williams looks more like the player they envisioned when he was drafted, when he gets beat, it tends to be ugly with serious consequences.
One other thing that is different isn't really a change but recognition. Jessie Bates is not only a top line safety but he's become the best player on the team.
Most of the major changes have actually come on the Browns side. Nick Chubb ran for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first matchup. He won't be out there. Kareem Hunt operated as a closer in that game and put the Bengals away with some big runs.
The other major change is positive. In the first game, Tavierre Thomas operated in the slot and the Bengals targeted him relentlessly. Thomas tackled receivers well after they caught the ball, but the Browns would prefer they not catch it in the first place.
The most notable example was a 4th-and-4 play where Thomas ended up on the left boundary against an empty formation. Burrow got the snap and without any hesitation threw a hitch to Thomas's man for the first down.
For all the injuries the Browns have suffered, they have gotten healthier at corner. Kevin Johnson will be out there and he's a significant upgrade, likely covering Tyler Boyd the majority of the game.
One adjustment everyone is waiting for on the Browns side is when their younger safeties will take over the position. Ronnie Harrison was out against the Steelers with a concussion and needs to clear the protocol, but he has played well for the Browns. Sheldrick Redwine, not even playing his true position, has performed admirably and is more suited to play free safety than Andrew Sendejo. Sendejo wasn't signed to play free but an injury to Grant Delpit forced their hand, at least early in the year.
Some of the players and matchups have changed, but for the Browns, this game is under eerily similar circumstances. They're coming off of a game where they were annihilated and the Bengals become an opportunity for them to get back on track, including most notably Baker Mayfield.
They are still the superior team and there is pressure on them to go into Cincinnati and win this game to get back on track before they host the Las Vegas Raiders before their bye week.