Browns (5-7) at Bengals (8-4), Sunday, Dec. 11 at Paycor Stadium (Field Turf), 1 p.m. ET, TV: WKRC-TV Ch. 12, CBS national, (Greg Gumbel, Adam Archuleta, AJ Ross), Radio: 700 WLW, WEBN-FM (102.7 FM), ESPN1530, (Dan Hoard, Dave Lapham)
CINCINNATI – The Bengals have no excuses this time.
Ja’Marr Chase is back at full health, Joe Mixon returns to action after two weeks in concussion protocol, complementing the red-hot Samaje Perine and they have DJ Reader in the middle of a defensive line that knows they have to contain Browns running back Nick Chubb.
Chase and Reader were out of the lineup in the first meeting on Halloween and it showed. The offense was out of whack from the moment Myles Garrett tipped an RPO pass as the line of scrimmage and was intercepted by AJ Green. The offense never found its groove until the fourth quarter, with the Browns ahead, 25-0.
With Reader not in the middle, Chubb gashed the Bengals late in the first half, ending with a three-yard TD run and a two-point conversion on a direct snap. Chubb finished with two TD runs and 101 yards on 23 carries.
The Bengals are riding a four-game winning streak for the first time in the Zac Taylor era. The Bengals have their eyes on repeating as AFC North champs. But to realistically continue on that journey, they need to solve the Browns Sunday at home.
Each side is coming off a victory against an AFC foe in Week 13, as Cincinnati defeated Kansas City in another epic Burrow-Mahomes battle at Paycor, 27- 24, while Cleveland earned a 27-14 road win at Houston.
For the Bengals, who have won four in a row for the first time since 2015, each victory serves as another step in the right direction at a crucial point in the schedule. Cincinnati showed its mettle in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs, turning a seven-point deficit into a win thanks to a timely turnover and efficient offense led by Joe Burrow.
“We know what it takes to win those types of games,” said Burrow. “It’s December, this is when we turn it up. That’s all there is to say about it. We’re going to get back to practice, keep getting better, correct the mistakes we’ve made, and move on.”
Burrow completed 25 of 31 passes (80.6 percent) for 286 yards and two TDs, while also opening the game with a rushing TD. Cincinnati, which had previously beaten Kansas City twice in January, shot out to a 14-3 lead with TDs on each of its first two drives. The Bengals benefited from the return of Chase, who showed little rust after missing four games due to a hip injury. Chase led the team with seven catches for 97 yards, including a 40-yard reception near the end of the first half that put Cincinnati in the red zone. But the offense was stymied on fourth-and-one at the Chiefs 7, flipping the momentum toward Kansas City at the break.
The Bengals will need big games from Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson to match Cleveland’s recent domination in the trenches. Pratt came up with perhaps the biggest play of the afternoon, as he ripped the ball out from Travis Kelce’s grasp and recovered the fumble, giving the offense a short field to try and reclaim the lead.
“That’s just what Germaine’s all about,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “If there’s a guy who’s scratching and clawing to get turnovers — just like he won us the game against Minnesota last year in Week 1 doing the same thing. Finding a way, sticking with it, that’s what we appreciate about Germaine. Germaine is playing some outstanding football right now.”
Here’s what to watch for in Game 13:
Simply put, Chubb is going to get his. While the Bengals did an incredible job against Derrick Henry, limiting him to 38 yards on 17 carries, Chubb runs differently. He’s lower to the ground and tougher to bring down. This has been part of the reason he has averaged 5.34 yards per carry and 95 yards a game on the ground against the Bengals in eight games. The Bengals have won just one of those eight games. Avoid the explosives and play with the lead, making the Browns grind the game. Let them hand off to Chubb and keep him from getting to the second level. Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson need to play up to their standard excellence in containing both Chubb and tight end David Njoku.
“We owe these guys.” Sam Hubbard says Bengals have to be at their best to beat Browns. Says the team “had to look ourselves in the eye” after Halloween loss. pic.twitter.com/Wbj1irJjdD
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 8, 2022
This has been perplexing, to say the least. Jacoby Brissett completed 17-of-22 passes on Oct. 31 for 278 yards. Amari Cooper had five grabs for 131 yards and a touchdown. Yes, the Bengals lost Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton and Tre Flowers in that game. But still, the Browns passing game, dating back to Baker Mayfield has just tormented the Bengals and Lou Anarumo. Now, enter Deshaun Watson. Watson was rusty to say the least last week, completing just 12-of-22 passes for 131 yards and throwing an interception.
“I think their offense is what their offense is,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said this week. “I think that they’ll have some unique things for him that maybe he’s comfortable with. And we played him a few years back in Houston, so we’ll take a look at that and see if there’s anything there that we know he likes. But for the most part, moving on to the Browns, it starts with stopping 24 (Chubb), so we’ve gotta go there first and then you go to the next part of it.”
Needless to say, the best 26th birthday gift Joe Burrow could receive is his first win against the Browns, even if it’s a day late. He’s 0-4 and the closest games came in 2020, when he lost 35-30 in Cleveland in Week 2 and 37-34 in Cincinnati in the last week of October. He’s lost the last two by a combined 73-29 score. Don’t turn the ball over and the Bengals should be able to get a lead, even against Myles Garrett. The Bengals were able to move the ball on their opening drive in Cleveland until Garrett got his paws up in the air and deflected a Burrow pass for an interception.
Keep running with the hot hand in Perine and get the ball to Mixon in open spaces. Both backs could have a big impact early. Get the lead and set up the pass game with play-action later to keep Garrett from just teeing off like he’s been able to the last two games. Perine is coming off a 106-yard effort against the Chiefs on just 21 carries. He had 155 scrimmage yards and has 326 scrimmage yards in his last three games.
While the Bengals have certainly righted the ship with a four-game win streak, this feels like a psychological “must-have” against a team that’s beaten them five straight. The Bengals have all the factors in their favor in this one. A rusty quarterback in his second game back after a two-year hiatus. A home crowd that is coming off last week’s huge win over the Chiefs. All the motivation in the world having lost five straight to their hated rivals up I-71, including a horrific embarrassment on national TV on Halloween in Cleveland. The Bengals – with the exceptions of Hayden Hurst (calf-week to week) and Chido Awuzie (ACL/IR) – are healthy. The Bengals jump out early, avoid the letdown of last week and keep the train rolling into Tampa Bay and Tom Brady next week.
Bengals 34, Browns 20