Joe Burrow's recovery from multiple torn ligaments in his left knee has been a pronounced success. (CBS Sports)
Cleveland Browns scouting report: Cincinnati Bengals
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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 Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Last game: Lost to New York Jets, 34-31, Oct. 31, in East Rutherford, NJ.
Coach: Zac Taylor, 11-28-1, third year.
Series record: Bengals lead, 51-44.
Last meeting: Browns won, 37-34, Oct. 25, 2020, in Cincinnati.
League rankings: Offense is 14th overall (23rd rushing, 11th passing), defense is 17th overall (seventh rushing, 23rd passing) and turnover differential is minus-1.
Things to watch
1. When quarterback Joe Burrow went down with a severe knee injury on Nov. 22 of last season, it felt like the entire Bengals franchise and city of Cincinnati went down with him. But not even a full year since surgery on Dec. 2 to repair his torn left ACL and MCL, and partially torn PCL and meniscus, Burrow and the Bengals are riding high. Burrow is sixth in passing yards (2,215), third in average yards per attempt (9.0), third in touchdowns (20) and sixth in passer rating (108.0). After piloting the Bengals to a 3-0 jumpstart in his second season, teammates started calling Burrow “Joey Franchise.”
2. The Bengals were immediately panned when they used the fifth overall pick on LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase instead of Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell. The criticism ramped up when Chase suffered numerous drops in training camp. But as soon as the real games started, Chase flipped a switch and the magical connection with former LSU teammate Burrow reappeared. Halfway through his first season – after opting out in his last year at LSU in 2020 – Chase is the runaway choice for offensive rookie-of-the-year and on his way to having the best season of any Bengals receiver in history – and they’ve had several great ones. Chase is averaging 20.6 yards a catch (38 for 786 yards) and his seven touchdown catches match the Browns’ entire team total. Chase has helped Burrow reclaim a deep passing game that wasn’t effective in his rookie season.
3. Burrow’s top three targets are all wideouts – Chase (38, 786, 7), Tyler Boyd (37, 398, 2) and Tee Higgins (29, 353, 2). But a key to Burrow’s success also has been tight end C.J. Uzomah (21, 289, 5). Uzomah suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in Game 2 in Cleveland last year and missed the season. Add running back Joe Mixon (137 attempts, 572 yards, 5 TD) to the mix and the Bengals have five consistent playmakers in their offense. Everything depends, of course, on the revamped offensive line keeping Burrow safe. So far, tackles Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff are holding up well, but the interior has been suspect.
4. The biggest surprise on the Bengals has been a reborn defense. Keys to its improvement have been free agent pickups – defensive end Trey Hendrickson, tackle Larry Ogunjobi, and nickel back Mike Hilton – plus nose tackle D.J. Reader, healthy after missing most of last year with a quad injury, and second-year middle linebacker Logan Wilson, who’s tied for second in the NFL with four interceptions. Free safety Jessie Bates is one of the best at his position.
Did you know … ?
1. The Browns have more first downs than the Bengals, more total yards, more rushing yards, two fewer offensive turnovers, and average four minutes more in average time of possession. Yet the Bengals have scored 37 more points, built largely by a 21 to 7 advantage in touchdown receptions.
2. Unaccustomed to the role of 11 ½-point road favorite, the Bengals’ 37-34 loss to the Jets last week was the fourth-biggest loss in Bengals history. Also, Mike White became only the second QB to throw for over 400 yards on the Bengals. Cam Newton was the first.
3. If it seems the Browns and Bengals never meet in November with both teams in playoff contention, that’s because it seldom happens. The only other time since 1999 the teams played each other with .500 or better records this late in a season came in 2014. On Nov. 6, the Browns beat the Bengals on a Thursday night to improve to 6-3 and move a half-game ahead of the 5-3-1 Bengals in the AFC North standings. The Browns would finish at 7-9; the Bengals 10-5-1 and a wild-card berth.
4. The Bengals carried two place-kickers on their regular roster last year after claiming former Brown Austin Seibert prior to Week 2. Then they used their fifth-round pick in the draft on Evan McPherson of Florida. Through eight games, McPherson is 10 of 13 on field goals and 26 of 26 on PATs. He is 3 of 4 from 50+ yards, the lone miss coming on a 57-yard try against Green Bay that would have won the game in regulation. McPherson later missed from 49 yards in overtime in an epic 25-22 loss to the Packers.
Small world: Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was a Browns’ third-round draft pick in 2017 and played with them through 2020 … Defensive quality control coach Louie Cioffi was Browns defensive backs coach in 2013 and 2016 … Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is son of Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan … Club President Mike Brown is the son of Browns founding coach Paul Brown.