AFC North Report: Browns, Bengals both tumble in Week 8

Steel City Underground’s AFC North Report wraps up the result of each game played by rivals in the division and how the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers fared against their opponents each week during the NFL regular season. 

The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals both faced quality opponents in Week 8 of the 2019-20 NFL regular season in the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams. The Bengals had a more favorable matchup in the Rams but were still unable to grab their first win of the season. The Browns, who’ve been on a bit of a skid of late, faced a nearly unstoppable force in the Patriots and took another loss.

While the Baltimore Ravens took their bye, the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted a Miami Dolphins team that had them down 14-0 early but the Steelers were able to rebound thanks, in large part, to some big plays on both offense and defense.

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Bengals can’t get out of their own way in London

Yes, the Bengals had to travel overseas to face a Rams team that has struggled to find its identity this season. Jet lag couldn’t account for how this game became a loss for Cincinnati, however. Throughout the game, the Bengals defense did what it has done all season – give up big plays. It wasn’t the run defense this week but the season-high 372 passing yards allowed that drove a stake right through Cincy’s heart. Rams receiver Cooper Kupp did the most damage, recording 220 of those yards (tied for third-best performance by an opponent in Bengals franchise history). Without Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick, the backfield was horribly undermanned and outmatched. The eighth loss in eight weeks matches Cincinnati’s worst start in a season since 2008.

Although the Rams have struggled this season, Jared Goff was able to pick apart the Bengals by targeting the middle of the field. Goff completed 11-of-11 attempts in that part of the field for 200 of his 372 yards of passing in the game. While Cupp did his part, Josh Reynolds also grabbed 73 receiving yards, including a 31-yard touchdown reception, that was just outside of the hashmarks.

The Bengals did get things going in the second quarter considering Andy Dalton was coming off of a three-interception Week 7 performance. Dalton was able to complete 15-of-19 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. Able to tie the game, 10-10, in the second quarter, Dalton would find himself five times behind a suspect offensive line. Still, Dalton was able to finish what may have been his most complete game this season with 32-of-51 passes completed for 329 yards.

Joe Mixon was the lone touchdown-maker for Cincinnati, however, on offense. He carried the ball 17 times for 66 yards against a Rams defense that only just over 100 while Giovanni Bernard spelled him with three carries for 31 yards. Mixon also caught four passes for 11 yards (including the touchdown). Alex Erickson, Tyler Eifert, and Tyler Boyd all had six catches while Auden Tate had five in the contest. It was Eifert’s best performance this season with 74 receiving yards.

A trick flea-flicker may have been the key turning point in this game, however. B.W. Webb slipped as a wide-open Kupp grabbed the pass and turned it into a 65-yard touchdown. With Webb down, Jessie Bates couldn’t recover at the safety position in time to catch up to Kupp in time to prevent the score.

This is a Bengals team that comes close to looking competitive until they get in their own way. They allowed too many successful third-down conversions when they were on defense and by not getting into the end zone on offense, they just could not put themselves into a position to win.

With the Bengals heading into a bye in Week 9, head coach Zac Taylor said in his post-game press conference that the message remains getting wins remains the same. “The bye week [is] for reevaluating ourselves… executing the way we want it done,” Taylor said.

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Turnovers, penalties doomed the Browns

The Browns didn’t gain much from their bye because when they returned from it, they were guilty of the same self-inflicted mistakes that had caused issues previously. In fact, in their season-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Browns drew 18 penalties. On Sunday, against a Patriots team that no one has been able to stop yet this season, Cleveland was guilty of 13 penalties and a first quarter in which they turned the ball over three times to give New England ten points. The result? A 27-13 loss.

“We went up (to New England) to win a game,” head coach Freddie Kitchens said. “We actually beat ourselves with turnovers and penalties.”

By digging themselves a very deep hole early, Cleveland was forced to play catch-up the remainder of the game. It didn’t help that Nick Chubb lost control of the ball twice. Trailing 3-0, Chubb grabbed his first carry and as he ran into traffic, teammate Joel Bitonio (upended by a Patriots defender) kicked the ball loose. Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower was able to scoop it up and take it into the end zone. On the very next offensive series, Chubb broke a big run but Jonathan Jones punched the ball onto the turf as the Patriots recovered.

Trailing 17-0, Baker Mayfield did orchestrate a 54-yard, six-play scoring drive by utilizing a balanced offense. The drive was capped by a 21-yard toss to Demetrius Harris to get the Browns on the scoreboard. Thanks to Denzel Ward blocking a Mike Nugent field goal, the Browns were only down by ten points at the half.

After the Browns kicked a field goal to close the gap, 17-10, in the first drive of the second half, the Patriots put together an 84-yard drive that took less than three minutes to execute due to a nicely-timed screen pass to James White on third down. Had Juston Burris not made a spectacular play, White would have found the end zone. In the end, though, Julian Edelman scored his second touchdown in the game and the Browns were only able to get another three points, period.

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