COMMENTARY: Bengals flop. Reds strike back. Buckeyes building?

If I were a betting man, this might be the last column I ever write because I would have bet it all on the Bengals-Browns game going just about exactly like it did.

I didn’t know it was going to rain, but having no preseason was always going to burn the Bengals, especially against any good team. Especially against THAT team.

Not a lot can be done about it given the Joe Burrow injury wiping out most of August.

Last year’s home loss to the Steelers was far more alarming at the time because we could still wonder if 2021 was a fluke. The rest of 2022 confirmed it wasn’t.

Here are some more thoughts on another mistake by the lake:

  • I actually believe in this coaching staff now after the way they turned it on midway through last season, so today’s ambivalence is a product of that. Not only did Zac Taylor and Co. turn last season around, they did so with tangible strategic changes to emphasize what the offensive line did well (as opposed to waiving a match Culture Wand and letting things just get better) even before Ja’Marr Chase returned from his injury.
  • The continuity of this staff and roster was touted as a strength all offseason — and it surely is — but ironically it probably worked against the Bengals in Cleveland. The Browns knew what they were going to do and surely had an easier time game-planning for them than vice versa since Cleveland has a new defensive coordinator and another offseason to tailor its offense to Deshaun Watson.
  • One could make the argument the Bengals should have come out more committed to running the ball — they even had some success when they tried — but that does work against Burrow because he needs a certain volume of throws, including a lot of short ones that take the place of runs, to really hit his peak. Should the coaching staff have overlooked that and tried an older-fashioned game plan given Burrow’s likelihood of being rusty, the rain and the overall matchup with the Browns? Maybe, but I don’t know the exact dynamic there. Perhaps they just give him the benefit of the doubt, which is often going to be the smart play, but coaches get paid the big bucks for a reason (of course now no one makes more than Burrow). I’ve argued in the past they should run it more to save Burrow from himself, but maybe I’ve just gotten tired of yelling into the void there. They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do.
  • Some people seem vexed by the Browns dominating the Battle of Ohio lately, but there’s not much mystery. The first two games against Burrow, the Browns had a much better team, though Cincy could have won the second one. In 2021, the Bengals laid an egg in the first meeting and neither team tried to win the second one. Last year they had to play the first game on the road on Monday night without Chase so that was no contest, and they won the second game. I’m not making excuses, just saying the Browns have had obvious advantages in half the games. There’s also an obvious formula for Browns wins — maybe less obvious this year depending on Watson — and that is get the lead, run the ball and rush the passer while playing sticky man-to-man defense, and the Bengals have let them do that more often than not.
  • The 2023 Bengals will be fine barring catastrophic injures. Not having a preseason meant they weren’t going to be ready to beat any good team in Week 1, that is partly by design even without the Burrow injury. The theory is taking it easy in the offseason has paid off with strong finishes the last two seasons, and it is hard to argue with the results.
  • The only question going into Sunday was are the Browns actually good, and the answer is yes. They have good corners and good pass rushers which makes them especially built to challenge the Bengals, though I felt like the Cincinnati offensive line wasn’t terrible Sunday. Cleveland has a good offensive line, and a great running back. Their ceiling will be determined by how well Watson plays from the pocket, but his ability to run gives them an added option to steal some first downs and even touchdowns, as we saw Sunday on multiple occasions.
  • If Watson is elite playing from the pocket, Cleveland can win it all. If not, the Bengals should be better than them by the end of the season.
  • Other quick hits from the Bengals game: Myles Garrett had a sack when the game was over, but he didn’t wreck it… Decent debut for Orlando Brown Jr. at left tackle… Tee Higgins was disappointing… Chase was OK, at least drawing a pass interference penalty… Joe Mixon looked good.

On the bright side, the Reds salvaged a Sunday game against the Cardinals.

  • They did so with lots of highlights. Joey Votto homered on his 40th birthday, Jonathan India went deep and stole a base, and most importantly Hunter Greene pitched very well.
  • Football season is here, and the Reds are still relevant. They might not make the playoffs, but that’s more than I asked for during the season so let’s just see what happens.

And then there’s Ohio State…

  • The Buckeyes have been causing consternation by not winning impressively enough. I’m often conflicted on how much to actually write that because it can be both a copout and boring whether it is actually true for false. There’s no lack of negativity out there, but there’s also a matter of getting to the truth of what’s going on.
  • I think Indiana will have a defense that causes lots of teams problems, though maybe not as any for those who have seen these Hoosiers all together on the field at one time. Expecting to drop more than 35 points on Youngstown State is very reasonable, so I don’t blame anyone for being worried about what it’s going to look like in South Bend in two weeks.
  • Fans are restless, Ryan Day is preaching patience, and both are probably within their rights. Day’s fast start to his coaching career made it seem like he was never going to have growing pains as a head coach, but maybe that was unrealistic. Ironically, his team is going through those now. At least that is how he is regularly describing the wonkiness of the offense. We’ll find out soon enough if that is a reason or an excuse.
  • Meanwhile, the defense should actually get a challenge from a pass-happy Western Kentucky offense this weekend.

About the Author