The Bengals enter the Week 7 matchup with a 1-4-1 record, while the Cleveland Browns are 4-2. Yet the difference between the two teams is not far off.
The Browns have a -24 point differential in 2020 which ranks 23rd in the NFL. One spot behind are the Bengals at -28. As Bengals head coach Zac Taylor pointed out in his weekly news conference, the Bengals are only a handful of plays away from having a better start to the 2020 season.
"We're a couple plays away from having a really good record, but we just haven't made those plays, haven't made those calls," Taylor said. "Again, we're all in this thing together. I understand the situation we put ourselves in with our record over the last two years but also know how capable we are of getting this thing turned quickly to where a lot more people jump back on the bandwagon and want to be a part of it."
The "Battle of Ohio" is a great opportunity for the Bengals to get back on track. Since the Browns' rebirth in 1999, the Bengals have won 15 of 21 games as the home team.
Here are the three things to watch.
1. The Run Defense – Cleveland comes to town boasting the No. 1 rushing offense at 169.5 yards per game. Kareem Hunt, who won the NFL rushing title in 2017 with 1,327 yards for the Kansas City Chiefs, is expected to take most of the snaps because the Browns top rusher from a season ago, Nick Chubb, is on injured reserve after suffering an MCL injury in his right knee.
In the first meeting between the two teams back on Sept. 17, Cleveland out-rushed the Bengals 215-68. However, Cincinnati's run defense has improved in the month of October. After allowing 181.6 rushing yards per game in the first three weeks, the Bengals have bounced back allowing 103 rushing yards per game in the last three games.
2. Big Plays – The Bengals wide receiver group ranks ninth in the NFL averaging 188.3 yards per game. What is exciting is the big play ability of Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins is starting to develop. Higgins connected with Joe Burrow on a 67-yard reception against the Colts and a 26-yard competition versus the Ravens. Boyd leads the Bengals with 416 receiving yards and provides Burrow with a reliable target, especially on third downs.
It will be a challenge though against a Browns defense that has allowed the fifth-fewest big plays per game. However, in the Browns Week 6 game at Pittsburgh, the Steelers rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns, but had three passes that went for 20-plus yards.
3. Take Advantage Of The Opportunities – Over the past three games, not only has the Bengals rushing defense improved, but on offense they've been much better in the red zone. The Bengals have moved up from 31st in the NFL to tied for 18th in red zone scoring. Against the Colts, Cincinnati scored three rushing touchdowns, all inside the 10-yard line.
Surprisingly, Cleveland ranks 30th in scoring defense and have not held an opponent this season below 20 points. Where the Browns have been successful, especially in their four wins, is generating turnovers. The Browns are 4-0 this season when they do not lose the turnover differential.
Photos of past matchups between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Eastern.
Television: The game will air on CBS-TV. In the Bengals' home region, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Ch. 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Ch. 27) in Lexington. Broadcasters are Spero Dedes (play-by-play) and Adam Archuleta (analyst).
Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530; all sports) and WEBN-FM (102.7). Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst).