Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow has never had a chance to play a team more than once in a season, so he’s not sure what it will mean in terms of how the Cleveland Browns will approach their second meeting.
But Burrow insists it will be a different game for the Bengals.
The Browns (4-2) come to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday looking to bounce back from a 38-7 thumping at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-0) in Week 6. The Bengals (1-4-1) are coming off a disappointing loss as well, after taking a 21-0 lead at Indianapolis, but for Burrow, this game provides a chance to prove this team is better than it was in Week 2, against an opponent he felt Cincinnati could have beaten the first time.
Cleveland won the first “Battle of Ohio” matchup 35-30 to begin a four-game winning streak that ended Sunday.
“We dropped back 70-some times because they were rolling on offense so we had to stay in the game,” Burrow said of the first meeting. “I just anticipate our team to play better as a unit and keep it a little closer.”
The Bengals fell behind in the first half and were down 15 points in the third quarter. he defense couldn’t stop the running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Burrow ended up throwing 61 times to finish with 316 yards and three touchdowns on 37 completions.
Joe Mixon carried the ball just 16 times for 46 yards, and Burrow felt the pressure of a defense knowing he was going to drop back. He was sacked three times and took another seven hits, one of which caused him to fumble on a Myles Garrett pass rush to knock the ball loose for Joe Jackson to recover at the Cincinnati 1-yard line.
“It was kind of a weird game,” Burrow said. “They jumped out on us early, so they played a lot more zone against us to keep everything in front of them, maybe take short completions up and down the field. So, you know I anticipate a little different game, but obviously Myles Garrett is one of the best pass rushers in the league so we’re gonna have to have a plan for him. We’re gonna have to always keep him in mind.”
Left tackle Jonah Williams said Garrett is just “good at everything” because he brings speed and strength, and it requires “being very disciplined in your technique to go toe-to-toe with him.”
Williams, like Burrow, also is in his first season on the field after missing his rookie campaign with a shoulder injury, so the Week 2 matchup was his first time facing Garrett as an NFL player. Now having seen him in person, Williams believes he is better prepared to block him.
“I’ve kind of been able to learn his tendencies and that type of thing,” Williams said. “That doesn’t take away the fact that he’s been a great player. It’s definitely going to be a challenge for me and the whole O-line to try to contain him this Sunday.”
The Bengals' offensive line has shown improvement the last few weeks – minus a bad game against the Ravens, who blitzed 21 times. Against the Jaguars and Colts, they have allowed three sacks combined and one of those was where Burrow intentionally took the sack to waste time at the end of a win against Jacksonville.
Williams said he has more confidence and a better understanding of what it takes to be successful in the NFL, and the line as a whole has gotten more comfortable with the same five guys lining up week to week since Alex Redmond took over at right guard.
“We know what’s expected of us,” Williams said. “We know there’s a lot of pressure on us to help this offense be successful. I think we’ve been working together better, communicating better just as a whole. Also, just guys getting game reps. It’s a different type of season. I think you kind of have to learn in the fire, which is what we’ve been doing. Our goal is just to keep getting better every week and helping this offense be successful.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said when he looks back on the film from the first game against Cleveland, he notices too many opportunities in the first half where they “misfired,” meaning there was a communication or technique issue or that he needed to get the offense into a better play call.
The early hole changed the game plan, but Taylor said he still has faith in Burrow in whatever situation he’s put in.
“We feel comfortable throwing the ball and we’ll do whatever it takes to win the game,” Taylor said. “He’s had a lot of success throwing it.”