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Reader: 'That Can't Happen,' As Browns Bury Bengals On Ground

The Browns' big backs were huge on the ground.
The Browns' big backs were huge on the ground.

You've got to remember. In the 62 games Bengals nose tackle D.J. Reader played for the Texans before coming over here, his proud and perennial play-off Texans defense had allowed more than 200 yards rushing just twice. And not until the last month of last season.

So when the Browns put 215 yards on the Bengals in Thursday night's 35-30 uneasy loss, Reader didn't take it too well.

"From the point of attack starting with me and it takes the whole defense to stop the run. That's what teams are going to do until we stop it. Everybody has to be better," Reader said through a subdued Zoom, before heading to the bus outside the Cleveland locker room.

"Want to. You have to want to do it. I think that's biggest thing. We talk about it, but you can talk about it about a lot of things, but you have to go out there and be better and I think that's collectively as a group. It starts in my room so I have to get that corrected. We'll get that corrected."

Particularly galling after the Bengals cut the lead to 28-23 with 5:55 left on a night Joe Burrow got off the canvas more than Picasso is that the Browns never had to put it in the air again. Quarterback Baker Mayfield handed it off six times and 75 yards and two minutes later it wouldn't have mattered if Burrow is a cross between Brady and Brees because it was back to 12 points with less than four minutes left.

"That's when a man is standing in front of you and saying 'He's gonna shove it down your throat and do better than you.' That's what he said," Reader said of either Mayfield or Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski or maybe Browns running backs Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt. "He said he was gonna run the rock at us and that's what happened. That can't happen. That can't happen. Football is too intense of a game and too physical for us to let that happen to us. We have to get that corrected."

You also have to remember that it has happened way too often around here dating back to 2018. After Chubb (124 yards) and Hunt (8.6 yards per his ten bolts) got through with them, it marked the ninth time in the last 32 games the Bengals had been gouged for at least 200 yards rushing. The rest of the century there had been only 22 of those 200 yarders against them.

That's why they made Reader the highest-paid free agent in franchise history back in March on a four-year, $53 million deal. It's why they signed middle linebacker Josh Bynes, strong safety Vonn Bell and slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander. They didn't dole more than $100 million to get that Thursday night.

"I think we just have to do things in a better light. You know, culture change," Reader said. "We're trying to bring a winning culture to this team and I don't think we've had that before. So now you're working on that. That's what comes with it. There's a tough lump that comes with it. But there's no excuses for it.

 "If you're not this pissed off after a game you just lost and gave up (more than) 200 yards rushing, then that's not right. You gotta want to win. This hurts. It's tough to win in this league. Week to week, it's real tough. So you gotta want to do it. You gotta put your mindset to it, every day, day in and day out."

Reader could have unplugged the Zoom or he could pointed to the absences of veteran defensive tackles Mike Daniels (groin) and Geno Atkins (shoulder) or he could have noted that the two defensive tackles playing next to him Thursday were nowhere near him in practice during training camp until they obtained old Texans teammate Christian Covington in a trade a week before the season and sophomore Freedom Akinmoladun surfaced on the active roster Thursday.

But he didn't.

"It's not tough. It's just knowing how to do your job and doing it, getting it done. You as a reporter, you gotta come on there and ask tough questions. My job is to stop the run," Reader said of the revolving door next to him. "Our job is to stop the run, so that's what we gotta do. I know it's what's gotta come up and what's gotta get done, no matter what. Whoever's there — we can put my son there, anybody. Whoever's there has got to get stopped. There's no excuse for it."

The Browns turned the table in the rivalry. In this century the Bengals have rolled up six 200-yard rush games against them and did it in both games in 2016. Going into Thursday, the Browns had only done it twice against Cincinnati and the last time was 2007. In the 51-45 loss when Carson Palmer threw six TDs, but Cleveland's Jamal Lewis ran for 216.

"I don't know. That's a really good question. I have no idea," said Reader, when asked how long it takes to change a culture. "But it's done collectively. It's not done just one person. It starts. But I think it's when this little loss hurt a lot of people, I think. To the core, it hurt. You can see it. I think collectively, you gotta want it as a group to make a change. I mean, that's the same battle we're battling in this world, right? To change the culture, you gotta collectively, all, everybody want to make a change. "