First-year Bengals coach Zac Taylor notched his first win against the Jets. (USAToday.com)
Editor's note: Tony Grossi is an analyst on the Cleveland Browns for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Browns v. Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, 1 p.m., in FirstEnergy Stadium
Last game: Defeated New York Jets, 22-6, Dec. 1, in Paul Brown Stadium.
Coach: Zac Taylor, 1-11, first year.
Series record: Bengals lead, 50-41.
Last meeting: Brown won, 26-18, Dec. 23, 2018, in Cleveland.
League rankings: Offense is 26th overall (29th rushing, 19th passing), defense is 31st overall (32nd rushing, 21st passing) and turnover differential is minus 12.
Things I think
1.When first-year coach Zac Taylor benched veteran QB Andy Dalton on the morning of the NFL trade deadline – on his 32nd birthday – everyone thought the Bengals were in tank mode. But Mike Brown, long-time president and GM, is an NFL dinosaur. He doesn’t tank. Fact is, the offense was terrible in eight games with Dalton, and three with rookie Ryan Finley, because of injuries to the offensive line and receiver position. Taylor’s three-receiver system – copied from his mentor, Sean McVay, under whom he served as Rams QB coach – could not function without injured receivers A.J. Green and John Ross. The line was destroyed by a season-ending injury to No. 1 pick, left tackle Jonah Williams of Alabama, and recurrent problems at left guard. The Bengals have had six different starting units at offensive line in 12 games. As a result, the offense has been a disaster. Only the Redskins have scored fewer than the Bengals' 179 points.
2.Taylor went back to Dalton last week because the organization did not want to go winless. Dalton produced the team’s first win against the Jets with the help of Cordy Glenn returning to the field at left tackle. Now, the fleet-footed Ross should be back after missing eight games with a sternoclavicular injury (fracture at the base of his throat). In four games, Ross had four plays of over 20 yards. In the eight games since, the Bengals as a team have had only five.
3.Green has not played since tearing ankle ligaments in the first 45 minutes of the first practice of training camp. He could return any day. The Bengals will update his status on Wednesday.
4.Defense was the hallmark of Bengals teams under long-time coach Marvin Lewis, but that unit is in transition despite the presence of stalwarts tackle Geno Atkins, defensive end Carlos Dunlap and nickel corner Darqueze Dennard. First-time D-coordinator Lou Anarumo was defensive backs coach with the Giants a year ago. The Bengals are last in rush defense, yielding 157.6 yards on the ground per game.
Did you know …?
1.The Bengals (1-11) currently are in the lead for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. They’re a game ahead of the Giants and two in front of the Falcons with four to play. They would have their choice of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow and Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young if they hold their position. Odds are the Bengals would side with Ohio-native Burrow and possibly keep Dalton for the final year of his contract.
2.One of the best things Taylor did when given the head coach job was retain Darrin Simmons as special teams coach. Simmons’ special teams have been ranked No. 1 in the league by various analytics sites. Brandon Wilson leads the NFL in kickoff returns with a 31.3-yard average and one touchdown return. The Bengals are second in average drive start receiving kickoffs and third in defending them.
3.Because of Green’s injuries, the Bengals’ best player on offense has been third-year running back Joe Mixon. His problem has been lack of running room because of the team’s deficiencies at receiver and offensive line. Also, Taylor doesn’t commit to Mixon as a focal point of the offense because he is essentially a pass-first coach.
4.Dunlap was named AFC defensive player-of-the-week for his three-sack, seven-tackle performance against the Jets. The sacks drew Dunlap to within 5.5 of the franchise record of 83.5 held by Eddie Edwards.
Small world: President and General Manager Mike Brown is the son of Paul Brown, who was the founding coach of the Browns and later founded the Bengals … Defensive end Anthony Zettel played for the Browns in 2018 … Defensive line coach Nick Eason played for the Browns in 2004-06 and was a coaching intern in 2013 … Tight end Mason Schreck (practice squad) attended Medina High School …