Bengals, Burrow wary of Garrett, Browns’ pass rush

Cleveland ranks third in the NFL with 22 sacks this season

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow will have plenty to worry about facing the Cleveland Browns defense on Sunday, but there’s no doubt one player is on the forefront of his mind.

As much as the addition of Jadeveon Clowney has improved the Browns pass rush, fellow defensive end Myles Garrett leads the league with 10.5 sacks through eight games, and Burrow is well aware of his ability to impact quarterbacks.

The Bengals (5-3) host the Browns (4-4) on Sunday in the first Battle of Ohio matchup of the season, Burrow’s third time facing the in-state AFC North rival.

“When you face a pass rush like they have, you’re always going into the game thinking about it, understanding you’ve got to get the ball out of your hands quickly,” Burrow said Wednesday as the Bengals ramped up preparations. “You’ve got to affect (Garrett) in certain ways, so you’re always thinking about a guy like that.”

The Browns’ pass rush ranks third best in the league with 22 sacks. Clowney adds 3.5 sacks, but Garrett has been shut down in just one game this season, and he accounted for three of the seven sacks Cleveland got on Burrow over two meetings in 2020.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said one of the most difficult things in preparing for Garrett is keeping an eye on where he lines up and from where he will be attacking. Last week against Pittsburgh, Garrett lined up extra wide, but his sack against Burrow in Cleveland last year on Thursday Night Football, which led to a fumble, came from the inside when he lined up against the right guard. Jackson Carman should be back in that role after suffering an injury in Sunday’s game against the Jets.

“They’ll align (Garrett) a little differently depending on the formation and sometimes depending on first or second down, third down,” Taylor said. “We have to track him. He’ll line up inside. He’s been mostly on the left, but he’ll line up on the right, he’ll line up inside. Same thing with Jadeveon Clowney and Takk McKinley. That’s just part of game planning. You have to prepare for where those guys are at and have good plans for that. … You have to be prepared for anything with these guys. They do a good job putting them in good position and we have to be ready for it.”

Clowney’s production dropped off the previous two years, but he appears back to better form in his first season with the Browns. Taylor said he’s “got great burst” and “good instincts” and also presents a challenge.

The concerns for Burrow don’t stop with the pass rush, though. The Browns have invested more into their secondary in recent years as well, and Denzel Ward has been considered among the league’s best cornerbacks. Cleveland’s run defense is its biggest strength, but the team ranks third in net defense, allowing 304.9 yards per game and 220.1 yards passing (seventh best).

“They’re a great defense, they really are,” Burrow said. “I mean, almost every single team has struggled to run the ball against them, they’re tough inside and they do a really good job of keeping everything in front of them (in the secondary). So, we’re going to have to have a good plan, we have to be ready to go as we do in every week.”

Ward recorded coverage grades of at least 72.0 in each of his first three seasons in the league and came into this season allowing just 51.4% of the passes thrown into his coverage to be completed.

Although he has no interceptions this season, Ward’s dominance in single coverage (96th percentile grade since 2018) has been particularly noteworthy.

Burrow has thrown among the most interceptions for a quarterback this season with nine, but he’s not concerned about that stat at this point as he believes he’s still making good decisions for the most part.

“You look at the stat sheet, and it’s high but then you go back and look and nobody goes back and watches the film,” Burrow said. “They just see nine, and so when you look at that, and then you go back and watch the film, and some of them you can control and some of them you can’t. That’s playing quarterback in this league. That’s what’s gonna happen over however many games you play, it’s not linear. Sometimes guys drop interceptions, sometimes guys make really good plays on something that shouldn’t be an interception.

“So I think overall, the last few weeks I’ve done a good job taking care of the ball and the one in the Baltimore game was not my best moment, but other than that, apart from the Bears game when I threw three and one of them I thought was a fumble, but, you know, it is what it is. I think we’re playing well on offense and have put ourselves in position to win some games.”


Browns at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, `1290, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7

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