On a wet Sunday afternoon in Cleveland, the Browns opened the season with a 24-3 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite the Browns being home underdogs, their defense put the clamps on their cross-state AFC North divisional rival.
I understand that Oxford is near Bengals country, but my favorite Week 1 overreaction is that the Browns will win the AFC North.
The Browns have yet to win the division since reactivating their franchise in 1999. The Bengals' two-straight division titles, meanwhile, make them the new face of the North.
The division has two other teams: the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. However, neither looked like division winners in their opening games.
Fortunately for the Browns, they’ve owned the Bengals in the 2020s. After Sunday, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow fell to 1-5 against the Browns in his career, including being winless at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
The Browns’ defense has Burrow’s number. His career averages against the Browns for completion percentage, yards per game and passer rating are all lower than his overall career averages. That defense is the team’s key to winning the division. On Sunday, new Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit arguably looked like the best in the league.
The Browns gave Burrow the worst game of his life. He completed 14 of his 31 throws for a career-low 82 yards and no scores.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the league’s highest-paid quarterback had a completion percentage more than 12% lower than expected.
The Bengals’ ability to push the ball down the field to their dynamic targets has built their recent success. In their Super Bowl run in 2021, the team led the league in yards per completion (8.7).
In Cleveland, a rattled Burrow averaged a measly 2.6 yards a throw. He didn’t complete a pass of 10 or more air yards.
To be fair, Burrow could still be recovering from his calf injury in late July, and the weather Sunday wasn’t quarterback-friendly.
But three points are three points. The Bengals’ offense would have looked better if it wasn’t for the Browns' excellent game plan.
Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter
Burrow was under pressure from the Browns’ front almost every drop back. Schwartz sent a blitz on 53% of first-half possessions.
Four-time All-Pro defensive lineman Myles Garrett looks to be the anchor of Schwartz’s new push rush. With a sack already to start the season, Schwartz put Garrett in various schemes that included him lining up one-on-one with the Bengals’ center.
With the addition of star rusher Za'Darius Smith on an almost whole new front, Schwartz’s blitz-heavy attack will be a nightmare for non-elite offensive lines, such as the Bengals’ line.
Whenever Burrow did have time to throw, there wasn’t anything down the field due to the Browns’ underrated secondary locking down the opposing receivers.
Browns defensive backs Denzel Ward and Grant Delpit made great plays to prevent Bengals superstar wideouts from hauling in big-time grabs.
Ja’Marr Chase was restricted to 39 receiving yards on nine targets. Tee Higgins didn’t catch a single pass on eight targets.
As a result, the Bengals’ high-powered offense stalled and punted 10 out of 14 times.
Now, despite how good the Browns are defensively, they need a good enough offense to put points on the board in big games. Although it’s not quite at its full potential, the Browns’ offense is solid.
Offensively, the Browns are a run-first group led by the best running back in the sport, Nick Chubb. Coming off 1,525 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in his 2022 campaign, Chubb is one of the favorites to win Offensive Player of the Year.
On Sunday, Chubb picked up where he left off with a 127 total yard afternoon. It makes it easier for the bell-cow back to produce when he is running back a top-tier offensive line.
Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has not yet returned to his Houston Texan form, but his 154 passing yards and two total touchdowns were enough to win a game behind a dominant defense and running game.
The Browns have finished at the bottom of the North in the last two seasons. However, this is their most talented roster in franchise history.
On Monday Night Football, the Browns travel to Pittsburgh to take on divisional rival Steelers. We will see if the Browns winning the division based on a Week 1 victory is an overreaction.