Ugly and grimy games aren’t new to the Battle of Ohio. The past three years showed how one team’s overhauled roster was composed perfectly to punish the other, and the styles of their victories altered the dynamic of how success is usually had in this division.
The Cincinnati Bengals, with a whiplash of adversity smacking them in the face, brought balance back to the matchup by taking away the Cleveland Browns‘ main strength. They held Cleveland to a woefully bad day running the ball, and yet still had to fight until the very end to secure victory. We begin our weekly rookie report with the player most responsible for that last stand.
When you have an up-and-down game, it’s much better to finish high rather than low.
Truthfully, Taylor-Britt didn’t start the game that well, which is why his grade from Pro Football Focus came out as a 52.3. Cleveland made a point by going right at him the first four plays, targeting Amari Cooper and David Bell against him in coverage, and running Nick Chubb right at him. Cooper got the better of him later on a deep comeback as well, and Donovan Peoples-Jones drew a defensive holding penalty against him early in the fourth quarter.
There’s also his tackling we need to keep on eye on. He’s been charged with five missed tackles in the past two weeks, which is unusual given how that’s a strength of his game.
It was a battle against both Cooper and Peoples-Jones for Taylor-Britt, and while his physicality shone on most reps, it wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter where it produced results.
The Browns were knocking on the door in the red zone, where they tested Taylor-Britt three times and got three incompletions out of it. Taylor-Britt broke up two of the passes, including a fourth down goal-line fade to Peoples-Jones. His ability to find the ball late helped him stop the Browns from making it a one possession game with just five minutes remaining.
And Taylor-Britt wasn’t done. The Browns got the ball back just a minute later and were faced with another fourth down. The rookie was faced with Cooper again on an island, and disrupted the veteran’s route by jammed him off the line. Cooper couldn’t haul in the last pass of the day from Deshaun Watson. Coffin nails.
It was the ending Taylor-Britt has worked for since being thrusted in as a starter back on Halloween against this Browns team, a game where he and the rest of the defense got steamrolled in the final 30 minutes. He deserves his flowers for coming out on top of this time.
It’s always a battle for Volson in the trenches, and not in a bad way. Trading blows comes with the territory of being a rookie offensive lineman. Volson allowed a hit on quarterback Joe Burrow and a handful of additional hurries. Cleveland has a crack for getting to Burrow as they got their hands on him more times than the official count of two sacks indicates.
But make no mistake, Volson got his wins in there.
You want to see less batted passes, that’s the answer.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this game was how ineffective the Bengals were rushing the ball against a weak interior defensive line. It’s where the Browns are their weakest on defense, and Volson and Co. couldn’t generate much movement against them until the second half. But like Taylor-Britt’s tackling, this is more of an anomaly than a concerning trend.
The answer for the Bengals stopping the Browns’ run game in its tracks was, surprisingly, sticking to four-man fronts instead of the 5-2 fronts they usually deploy. There wasn’t much of a choice considering the Browns’ personnel kept the Bengals in nickel, which meant Mike Hilton was called on for 16 snaps of run defense. That’s perfectly fine when DJ Reader and BJ Hill are your defensive tackles, and your slot corner in Hilton plays like a linebacker.
This did mean that Carter only had six snaps against the run and 22 snaps overall. He mainly kept Reader and Hill fresh on passing downs. Having a deep rotation at defensive tackle will be critical for the playoffs, because the longer Reader and Hill can stay in the game, the more one-dimensional opposing offenses will have to be, because no one can run on this defense with both of those guys out there.
Cincinnati’s special teams is in a bad place right now. Aside from Evan McPherson and Cal Adomitis, there are struggles all over. Drue Chrisman’s average hang time on his five punts from Sunday was 3.53 seconds. It doesn’t matter how far you punt the ball, if it gets to the returner that quick it will leave your coverage team out to dry, and penalties can come with that.
Since the week 10 bye, they’ve incurred eight penalties on special teams alone. Two of them came from Sunday’s game, and Hill was called for one of them. He should appeal to his coaches because it Tre Flowers was actually responsible for the infraction. He did make a tackle on the first of Chrisman’s punts, which gives him three on the season.
Where on the field was Dax Hill?