Battle of Ohio: Improving Bengals’ defense looks to ‘silence’ Mayfield, Browns

CINCINNATI, OHIO - NOVEMBER 10: Willie Snead #83 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled by Jessie Bates #30 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - NOVEMBER 10: Willie Snead #83 of the Baltimore Ravens is tackled by Jessie Bates #30 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the NFL football game at Paul Brown Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)

Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates said he likes playing against a quarterback like the Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield, not because of what he brings to the field but more so because of his approach to the games.

When the Bengals (1-11) travel to play the Browns (5-7) in the first edition of this year’s “Battle of Ohio” on Sunday, Bates sees it as a challenge for the defense to “silence” an opposing quarterback.

“It’s a little more fun to be able to play against someone who likes to talk a little smack,” Bates said. “That’s part of the game, honestly. I’m not going to say too much about it. We’re just going to let it play out and see how that goes.”

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The Bengals have a little swagger to them this week, coming off their first win and getting wide receiver John Ross back from injured reserve, but Mayfield has been known for his over-the-top confidence since his college days. Among the most memorable of his antics for Ohioans was when he planted the Oklahoma Sooners’ flag on the Ohio State crest at midfield after a road win against the Buckeyes.

Mayfield hasn’t backed up his confidence on the field consistently this season, despite the Browns adding star wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry during the offseason. The offense is a threat regardless, but Mayfield has thrown 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and had two turnovers in Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Steelers, a game in which Bud Dupree’s helmet smacked his right hand at the end of a throw just before halftime. He returned for the second half but was limited in practice Wednesday.

The 2018 No. 1 draft pick told Cleveland media he expects to practice Thursday and play Sunday.

“Mama didn’t raise a wuss,” Mayfield said, according to Cleveland.com beat reporter Mary Kay Cabot.

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Beckham and Landry were supposed to be the big difference-makers this year, but Bates said the Browns’ running game is what has carried that offense, and the numbers back that up. Nick Chubb leads the league with 1,175 rushing yards, and Kareem Hunt is starting to gain more ground as he settles in, four games into his Browns playing career.

Beckham has been held under 100 yards receiving in 10 of 12 games this season and finished with just three catches for 29 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers. Landry led with six catches for 76 yards but drew headlines for his heated exchange with quarterbacks coach Ryan Lindley on the sidelines immediately after Joe Haden picked off a pass intended for him with 1:06 left in the game.

“Everyone talks about the wide receivers, but I think the thing that has them rolling is their running backs,” Bates said. “That’s the biggest thing. Yeah, when their wide receivers catch the ball everyone knows because they let everyone know, but I think Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are doing a really good job of keeping that team rolling.”

Beckham hasn’t been pleased with the limited targets he’s received this season, and Browns coach Freddie Kitchen said Wednesday on a conference call with local media, “Everyone wants to see him get more touches.”

The Bengals will do their best to prevent that Sunday, Bates said, but whatever the Browns’ game plan, it’s another good challenge for a defense that has shown improvement in the second half of the season. Cincinnati allowed an average of 177.6 rushing yards through the first eight games, but the last four opponents have averaged just 117.5 rushing yards. The Bengals’ pass rush also has ramped up with 10 sacks over the last three games.

“They’ve got a lot of playmakers,” said defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording three sacks in Sunday’s 22-6 win over the Jets. “Their running game, they’ve got running backs running the ball hard and the quarterback can extend the plays and make all the throws and they’ve got two receivers that can make viral catches. It’s a good opportunity to show people once again what we’re capable of.”

Cincinnati leads the “Battle of Ohio” series 50-41, and the Bengals have won eight of the last 11 meetings, but were swept last year. Dunlap said the rivalry still has great meaning despite the records. The Bengals are looking for a second straight win and first AFC North victory.

“We want to be the best team in Ohio and the AFC North,” Dunlap said. “We can’t accomplish one of those, so we can accomplish the other, and that gives us something else to focus on.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Browns, 1 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12; 700, 1530, 95.3, 101.1, 102.7, 104.7