What We Saw: Bengals vs. Browns

Dan Adams recaps the Battle of Ohio from a fantasy football perspective.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns

 

Tonight’s matchup set the former first-overall pick, Baker Mayfield, against the reigning first-overall pick Joe Burrow. Burrow made his prime-time debut, and we got plenty of looks at him as he threw the ball 61 times. The Cleveland defense was able to contain him early, led by a stand-out game from Denzel Ward and a key strip-sack by Myles Garrett, and the combination of running backs Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb was able to wear down the Bengals’ defense. A late touchdown from Burrow to Tyler Boyd made the score look closer than the game really was, as the Browns were in control for most of the game and held on to win 35-30.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

 

Quarterback

 

Joe Burrow: 37/61, 316 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 3 sacks, 1 fumble | 7 carries, 19 yards

 

Joe Burrow’s final stat line is a little inflated thanks to some garbage time production. He showed an impressive ability to navigate pressure in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield. It’s unusual to have this criticism of a young quarterback, but I actually felt like he was keeping his eyes downfield too long instead of taking some running lanes that were available. He looked a little surprised by a strip-sack from Myles Garrett that it seemed like Burrow should have been able to feel but the fact that he was only sacked three times on a night when his offensive line looked completely overmatched is a positive sign for his future. He had a few throws where he placed the ball into tight windows to throw his receivers open, including a very difficult throw between two defenders to Tee Higgins and a really nice back-shoulder throw to A.J. Green that was unfortunately dropped. Burrow’s final touchdown was a strike to Tyler Boyd in the back of the endzone that Burrow threw while stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure, exactly the type of throw we’ve come to expect from the elite quarterbacks in the league. His other touchdown passes, a beautifully dropped-in pass to C.J. Uzomah and a quick throw on a slant to Mike Thomas, were also impressive. Throwing 61 times is far from ideal for the Bengals, but for fantasy, we can expect Burrow to be throwing to chase points frequently as this team looks like it will play from behind often. Burrow’s future looks bright, and for this season he’s at least someone to consider as a streaming option especially in positive matchups.

 

 

Running Backs

 

Joe Mixon: 16 carries, 46 yards | 4 targets, 4 receptions, 40 yards

Giovani Bernard: 1 carry, 3 yards | 7 targets, 5 receptions, 22 yards

 

Whenever you have the chance to give your running back a big contract extension and then proceed to not play him on the most important downs you clearly have to take it. Joe Mixon looked good early, doing his best to find running lanes behind a bad offensive line and making defenders miss when he caught the ball in space. The problem for Mixon is the Bengals’ insistence on using Giovani Bernard on passing downs, including in their hurry-up offense late in the game. Why they continue to do this despite handing Mixon a new contract, and despite how good Mixon looks catching the ball, is beyond me. This usage really puts a cap on Mixon’s fantasy production, and it results in games like tonight where he got off to a good start and then faded as the game went on because he stopped seeing the ball. Bernard’s lone carry was in the red zone and was initially ruled a touchdown before review determined he was down at the 1-yard line, and if Mixon is not only losing passing downs but also goal-line work then it’s very difficult to trust him as an RB1 going forward. It’s not time to panic yet, but if you have Mixon on your roster it may not be a bad time to gauge his trade value.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

 

Tyler Boyd: 8 targets, 7 receptions, 72 yards, 1 TD

A.J. Green: 13 targets, 3 receptions, 29 yards

Tee Higgins: 6 targets, 3 receptions, 35 yards

Mike Thomas: 4 targets, 4 receptions, 31 yards, 1 TD

C.J. Uzomah: 6 targets, 4 receptions, 42 yards, 1 TD

Drew Sample: 9 targets, 7 receptions, 45 yards

 

The nicest thing I can say about A.J. Green’s performance tonight is Burrow targeted him 13 times. Green struggled to create separation and had several uncharacteristic plays where he failed to come down with a catchable ball. They weren’t drops necessarily, but they’re the type of catch Green used to make routinely. Maybe he’s still working his way back into form after all of that time off and certainly if he continues to get 13 targets he’s likely to figure it out eventually, but he did not look good tonight. Tyler Boyd was solid on his usual short routes, and he benefitted from a late touchdown in garbage time. He’s the most reliable receiver in this offense for now and should be a consistent weekly start. Tee Higgins and Mike Thomas both worked ahead of John Ross, as Ross went without a reception on two targets, and both receivers provided Burrow with big targets that can use their frame to create a window for Burrow to deliver the ball into. In redraft, they can both be ignored for now, but they should both have a role in this offense moving forward. C.J. Uzomah looked really good tonight, catching a touchdown off a really nice route that saw him head toward the sideline before turning upfield in order to create some space between him and the safety that was sitting back in coverage. Unfortunately, Uzomah suffered a lower-body injury late in the game and had to be carted off. After he exited the game Drew Sample started racking up targets and finished second on the team with 9 of them. Assuming Uzomah is going to miss some time with this injury Sample looks like someone to target on waivers. Sample wasn’t overly impressive with the ball in his hands, but he was reliably getting open on the type of quick routes that let Burrow get the ball out quickly and move the chains.

 

Cleveland Browns

 

Quarterback

 

Baker Mayfield: 16/23, 219 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT | 3 carries, 5 yards

 

Baker Mayfield needed a good game tonight, and while it wasn’t flawless he did enough to lead his team to a comfortable win. He was great off play-action and the Browns relied on that early to move the ball down the field. His best throw came on a beautiful deep throw to Odell Beckham Jr. off a play-fake, and overall Mayfield looked much more comfortable rolling out of the pocket and throwing on the run. His offensive line did a good job of protecting him, and the running game was excellent tonight to take some of the pressure off him. Aside from a terrible decision on his lone interception Mayfield consistently made good reads and delivered the ball on time to his playmakers. Fantasy wise, this is a run-first team, and Mayfield himself doesn’t offer much in the way of rushing upside. Tonight was about as good a matchup as he’ll get this season so there are certainly better options at quarterback in most leagues. Still, it was encouraging to see him play well and do enough to support the fantasy value of his teammates.

 

 

Running Backs

 

Nick Chubb: 22 carries, 124 yards, 2 TDs | 1 target, 1 reception, 9 yards

Kareem Hunt: 10 carries, 86 yards, 1 TD | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 15 yards, 1 TD

 

The stars of tonight’s show were the running back duo for the Browns. Nick Chubb looked to be too physical for the Bengals’ front seven as he consistently ran through the first contact to pick up extra yards. He had at least four carries from the 1-yard line, scoring a touchdown on one of them while adding another score from 11 yards out, and appears to be the focal point of the offense as long as the Browns are playing with a lead. Kareem Hunt served as both a backup to Chubb and the primary receiving back, and while he didn’t rack up targets tonight he was consistently seeing the field on third downs. He got most of his yards and his rushing touchdown in the 4th quarter when he was able to take advantage of a clearly tired Cincinnati defense. Hunt will get more touches in games where the Browns need to pass more and it’s a great sign for his fantasy value that he was this productive in a game that Cleveland was leading from the start. Both his touchdowns came in the red zone and it’s clear that as much as the team loves Chubb, Hunt will also have a big role in this offense. Chubb should see the majority of the carries, but both are worth starting every week.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

 

Odell Beckham Jr.: 6 targets, 4 receptions, 74 yards, 1 TD

Jarvis Landry: 3 targets, 3 receptions, 46 yards

KahDarel Hodge: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 39 yards

Austin Hooper: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 22 yards

 

Odell Beckham didn’t see a target on Cleveland’s first drive, but on their second drive he did this:

 

He may have been quiet the rest of the night, only adding a few underneath catches, but it was great to see Beckham make a big play. After a slow start to the season, and on the heels of disappointing fantasy owners last year, it was clear that fantasy managers that started the season with Beckham (myself included) were already getting nervous. He made a great catch for his touchdown, stretching out to secure the ball, and probably would have had another deep touchdown if not for a defensive holding that went uncalled despite the defender clearly grabbing his jersey. This offense looks to be at it’s best off of play-action, and that should fit well with Beckham’s skillset. Jarvis Landry came into the game dealing with an injury and was mostly quiet. He made a clear mistake, stopping a route short of the first down marker on third and long despite having space in front of him to set his feet past the first down marker, but his lack of production was mostly due to the lack of volume in the Brown’s passing attack tonight. Austin Hooper looked poised for a nice game after David Njoku’s injury last week cleared the way for Hooper to be alone atop the tight end depth chart, but he was also very quiet. Hooper and Landry will have better games when the Browns need to throw more, but the risk in starting them, for now, is that the team clearly prefers to run the ball when it can and Beckham should be locked in as the high-upside big-play threat.

 

 

(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

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