Battle of Ohio: Bengals still trying to overcome Browns obstacle

Cleveland has won five straight games vs. Cincinnati

CINCINNATI —Sam Hubbard has been a part of some tough losses in his five years with the Cincinnati Bengals, but the last one against the Cleveland Browns was especially disappointing for a team with such high expectations after a Super Bowl run last season.

The Bengals stunk it up on Monday Night Football in Week 8, losing 32-13 while getting shut out through three quarters and struggling against backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

The Bengals haven’t lost since, including back-to-back wins over two of the top teams in the conference — Tennessee and Kansas City — the last two weeks. Cincinnati (8-4), tied with Baltimore for the lead in the AFC North, is riding a four-game winning streak into the “Battle of Ohio” against Cleveland (5-7) on Sunday at Paycor Stadium.

“I think we reset over the bye weekend,” Hubbard said. “It was a tough loss for us, you know, on national television. We really had to look ourselves in the eye and make some improvements and be the team we wanted to be. They played great. They’ve got great players, that’s for sure. And it’s gonna take a great effort on Sunday for us to win this game.”

“They’ve got the last (five) wins on us, and we kind of owe these guys and it’s a big game for us,” Hubbard added. “Any division game like this, you want to get that win, especially late in the season. And they always play us very well. And we got to do the same.”

The Browns have won five straight in the series since Joe Burrow arrived in Cincinnati, though he only played in four of those. The starters sat out of the regular-season finale against Cleveland last year to rest up for the playoffs.

Burrow struggled with turnovers in the past two meetings, including red-zone interceptions on the first drive of both games. In the Oct. 31 matchup, cornerback A.J. Green picked him off at the Cleveland 16-yard line, and in the first game of the series in 2021, cornerback Denzel Ward intercepted a pass intended for Ja’Marr Chase at the 1-yard line and returned it for a touchdown.

Cincinnati also hasn’t been able to contain Cleveland’s pass rushers. Burrow has been sacked 17 times in four matchups, including 10 over the last two.

“They’ve got really good players,” Burrow said when asked why the Bengals have struggled against Cleveland. “We haven’t executed up to our ability, so we’re gonna have to execute the game plan to the best of our ability and move the ball, put points on the board and keep their offense off the field.”

Hubbard said running back Nick Chubb has a lot to do with the Browns’ success on offense against the Bengals, and that again is a focus this week. Cincinnati was missing run-stopper DJ Reader in the first matchup and has missed two other games against the Browns since arriving in 2020.

Burrow chalks up his team’s offensive struggles to the problems presented by Myles Garrett, indicating he is what makes Cleveland’s defense a unique challenge. Garrett has at least one sack in the last five games against Cincinnati and totaled six in the four games Burrow played.

“He just presents so many problems to you because he can win at the line of scrimmage, he can win late, he’s fast off the ball,” Burrow said. “He’s just so disruptive in everything that he does. He’s a great player.”

Burrow said Cleveland’s defense is beatable for the Bengals. He threw for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of his first two games against the Browns in 2020 and completed 70 percent or more of his passes in the last three.

The turnovers have been the difference, he said. Three of his five career red-zone interceptions have come against the Browns, which he attributes to him not doing his job. Those can’t happen in a game like this one, Burrow said, because of how important it is to play with a lead against a team that runs well and has elite pass rushers.

Burrow doesn’t say how much beating the Browns would mean to him, but they are the one obstacle he and the Bengals can’t seem to overcome.

“It’s a big division game,” Burrow said. “Division games are always like that. They’re always a little more intense. You always focus on them a little bit more just because of the history and how many times you play these guys every year.”


Browns at Bengals, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1290, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7

About the Author