The Browns take on the Bengals in the 80th Battle of Ohio. The Bengals are extremely thin in the secondary as they are missing Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick and Reggie Nelson while the Browns’ guard Shawn Lauvao is again inactive this week, forcing Oniel Cousins to block arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL in Geno Atkins. The Browns are also without Jabaal Sheard and Billy Winn, but are able to absorb those losses better than many teams would be. This means that Barkevious Mingo will get the first start of his career and will have to again prove himself as a run defender. Critics thought he would be nothing more than a Bruce Irvin type pure pass rushing options, but supporters note he played power end in the SEC and held up far better as a run defender than many realized. Without Winn, the Browns have the always reliable Athyba Rubin and the question will be if they want to use John Hughes at end or just use Armonty Bryant in his rookie debut.
Brian Hoyer gets his second game as the quarterback for the Browns and while the Bengal secondary is thin, their defensive line is loaded and just keeps coming. Their linebackers are extremely effective against the run, so the Browns might have trouble getting their running game back on track this week, but there could be some nice opportunities to get the ball to Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Davone Bess.
Meanwhile, the Browns have to find a way to defend the combination of A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert while not forgetting Mohamed Sanu and Giovani Bernard in the passing game. This game features teams with some strengths up front, the ability to stop the run and rush the passer but there are significant questions about how teams will hold up on the back end of the defense. This could be a game that features a ton of big plays both ways with quarterbacks picking themselves up off of the ground as well as making big plays in the passing game. This could end up being a combination of a shootout as well as a last man standing situation at the quarterback position. As a result, this game comes down to which coaching staff can exploit the opponent’s weaknesses while hiding their own.
If the Browns can win this, they pull even with the Bengals at 2-2 and perhaps a game out of first, while the Bengals have an opportunity to get to 3-1, at least a share of first place and primed to separate themselves from the Browns and Steelers.