The Cleveland Browns will be heading into the hardest part of their schedule after fending off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this past Sunday, and they’ll be doing it under a national spotlight. On just three days rest, the 5-3 Browns will be heading to the other side of the state to face their division leading rivals, the 5-2-1 Cincinnati Bengals. After struggling against three of the league’s worst teams, it will be interesting to see if the Browns can come out firing against better competition. If they’re going to win this game, there are three things this team must do, starting with the faltering run game.
The Browns rushing attack was unable to get going for the third consecutive contest, despite going up against the 32nd ranked defense in the NFL. Terrance West was able to get a few things going on the ground, but ultimately ended up with a yards per carry average barely over three. Seeing as most of Brian Hoyer’s success has come via play action plays, the run game is the most integral part of the Cleveland offense. Isaiah Crowell’s likely return this Thursday will be an added bonus to the faltering rushing attack, despite him registering just 19 yards on eight carries over the past three contests.
Either due to the inconsistencies of the run game, or just opposing defenses figuring him out, Brian Hoyer has been mediocre for three consecutive weeks. Though his numbers show a 61.8 CMP percentage and a 300 yard performance, Hoyer was largely ineffective throughout most of the game. If not for his ability to run the play action, Hoyer would have performed way worse against a team that hasn’t been able to contain any offense all year. Though statistics have shown Hoyer can throw the deep ball as efficiently as anyone in the NFL, he has been one of the worst short field quarterbacks in the entire league. Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system is essentially a west coast offense, which makes short throws key to the success of the offense as a whole. In order to beat a superb Bengals defense, Hoyer will need to throw the ball to all areas of the field as effectively as possible. Completions will open up a run game that is sorely lacking and could really use a solid performance to put the offense back on track.
A unit that shone again for yet another week was the improving Browns defense. Tashaun Gipson recorded his league-leading sixth interception, while Joe Haden and Donte Whitner both played spectacular games. Buster Skrine was largely exposed for most of the game against the much bigger rookie Mike Evans, but the rest of the defense was just sound enough to keep Tampa Bay from scoring 20 points. A large part of that goes to the special teams unit after the Browns blocked a field goal to start the game and later blocked a punt that led to the deciding Taylor Gabriel touchdown catch. After giving up 80 yards to former Brown Bobby Rainey in the first half, the Browns were able to hold him to just seven yards in the second. If the Browns can continue to improve and perform on D, particularly in the turnovers category, this team will be even harder to beat. Containing A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu will play a huge role in whether or not Cleveland can take out Cinci in their Thursday night matchup.
Seeing as the Cincinnati Bengals haven’t lost at home since December of 2012, a Browns win would speak volumes for the state of the team. Though not a must win, it could very well decide which AFC North teams make the playoffs, as it would give each team in the division at least three losses, and the Browns a 2-2 split in their record against division opponents. Something the Browns must remember now is that every win is coveted in what has become the toughest division in football. With that being said, let the first match of the Battle of Ohio commence.