For all the calculus cracked after Burrows’ heroics last week in sacking the Falcons for 481 yards, Monday’s primetime spectacle will come down to the dirty work of stopping Browns running back Nick Chubb.
Just as Corey Dillon, Rudi Johnson and Cedric Benson once controlled this rivalry on the ground for the Bengals, Chubb’s 5.5 yards per punt and four 100-yard games against Cincinnati have dominated a streak in which the Browns have won six of the last seven the matches. The Bengals know they can’t play like Chubb’s 70-yarder up the middle for the touchdown that led to last year’s 41-16 loss to the Browns at Paycor Stadium.
While they wait for Deshaun Watson, the run is how the Browns live and staring at their fifth straight and virtual elimination from the playoffs, it will be Chubb left and right and Kareem Hunt doing the rest. The Browns have run 47.3 percent of the time this season, eighth-highest in the NFL.
Jacoby Brissett is capable but a caretaker. He has the second-worst touchdown passes in the league with six in seven starts and he hasn’t thrown two in a game along with 250 yards. The Browns have scored 20 points or fewer three times in their four-game losing streak and face a Bengals defense that hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in five of its last six games
Now take a look at Burrow and his last two games. In the last 72 years, only he and Joe Montana have thrown three-plus touchdowns, rushed for one and had no interceptions in consecutive games, and Burrow is the only player with 300 or more yards with three or more touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown back back to back games.
It seems like the ultimate trick to lose this match. But the Browns have the potential antidote in two vets in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Garrett, one of the two best things in the 2020s and who has six this season, will go against both Bengals tackles. Left tackle Jonah Williams is playing the best ball of his five seasons and right tackle La’el Collins is starting to play the way the Bengals envisioned when they signed him in March. Burrow has been sacked 10 times in the last four games after 13 in the first two weeks.
And that’s allowed Burrow to go off since the third game of the season, when he’s in the top three with a 71.3 completion percentage, 312 yards per game, 12 touchdowns, one pick and a 117.2 passer rating.
It’s tough not having Ja’Marr Chase. But Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins have also had 100-yard games with a touchdown in the Bengals’ wins. Plus, Chase (2), Boyd (2) and Higgins (1) have combined for five TDs of 40 yards and no other team has at least three players one or more TDs of 40 yards. So Boyd and Higgins are more than capable of putting up big numbers.
Keep an eye on the young SEC kickers. Bengals sophomore Evan McPherson of Florida is 4-for-4 from 50 with a club-record 59 on Opening Day. That same day, Browns rookie Cade York of LSU, two of four from 50 this season, hit a game-winning 58-yarder. It is the second-longest sack in Browns history. Steve Cox, of course, had a 60-yarder 38 years ago against the Bengals.