In this column, I will give an analysis of the Sept. 17th National Football League game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, with the focus being on each team’s quarterback.
Joe Burrow was the man for the Bengals, and it was only his second professional start since being selected with the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Burrow came into week two 0–1 after losing to the Los Angeles Chargers 16–13 in week one. Burrow finished 23–36 with 193 yards and one interception.
He notably led a strong drive at the end of the game that could have won the game if wide receiver AJ Green had not been flagged for pass interference in the end zone, and would have at least went to overtime if kicker Randy Bullock hadn’t missed a chip-shot field goal as time expired. An overall solid debut with room to improve for Burrow.
Baker Mayfield was at the helm for the Browns and had a lot to prove. The first overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft had a strong rookie campaign and a disappointing sophomore season that has put him in a position where he needs to prove he was worth the first overall selection.
Mayfield came into the contest also 0–1 after getting blown out by the Baltimore Ravens 38–6. Mayfield finished the game 21–39 with 189 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. A bad Week One for Mayfield and the Browns meant that a victory against a weak Bengals team was absolutely vital.
The Browns were able to hold on to defeat the Bengals 35–30 and led for a majority of the game. Mayfield finished 16–23 with 219 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Burrow went 37–61 with 316 yards and three touchdowns.
For only his second game at the NFL level, Burrow played a very comfortable style. He used a slow tempo, similar to the one that Tom Brady showed for the New England Patriots for so many years, and was able to find success against an underrated Browns defense. He drove down the field with mostly short to mid-range passes that had a high likelihood of being caught for positive yardage.
He looked poised on third down and was actually perfect on all 4th down conversions, a strong feat for a rookie. He was able to gain a lot of yardage and put two of his touchdowns up in the fourth quarter, which definitely padded his stats slightly. However, the fact that he was able to keep composed and show a gritty style that was highlighted by several scrambles in high leverage situations.
Burrow showed weakness in only a few areas. He took plenty of hits throughout the game, highlighted by two sacks and a lost fumble. While the putrid play of his offensive line was not doing him any favors, it was definitely an area of his game he can improve.
He also will need to improve upon his clock management and overall pace. The Browns took a stranglehold through quick strikes that sucked away any momentum that the Bengals were building. If Burrow can pick up his pace while still remaining cool, calm, and collected he will prove to be a problem for the AFC North and the entire league in general.
Mayfield looked similar to his 2018 form in this game, which is a positive for Browns fans. He threw plenty of mid to deep range darts to his receiving core, notably showing chemistry with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr, another player seeking redemption this year. Mayfield was very aggressive from the first snap and definitely caught the Bengals defense off guard a few times.
His aggressiveness was only beaten by his consistency, a trend that Browns fans will hope is here to stay. Mayfield managed the offense in this game like a seasoned veteran, and while the Bengals defense is far from elite it is still a step in the right direction for Mayfield.
Mayfield’s weakness is actually also related to his aggressiveness, and it comes in the form of risk management. His interception was at a horrible time, and gave a down Bengals team a little bit of light. After this point, Mayfield was not given many opportunities to redeem himself, which represents a lack of trust from the Browns coaching staff. However, many quarterbacks in the league would be given the same punishment for this error so it if unfair to give Mayfield too much flack for this.
Mayfield gets a slight edge over Burrow this time, mostly due to the fact that the Browns were victorious. Burrow did not disappoint, and yardage and touchdown wise he was the superior quarterback. However, there was plenty of both aspects accrued during a comeback effort that came up just short.
In contrast, Mayfield gained his statistics early on and missed out on gaining more in the pursuit of running out the clock and preserving a win. Up to the point of Mayfield having free reign, he was winning the statistics race. It is also important to note that Burrow faced a much harder defense than Mayfield.
Burrow showed poise that portrays promise for the Cincinnati faithful, and it is all but a guarantee that the Bengals will have significant improvement from last year. Mayfield needed a strong performance, and this sets him up to keep improving. He is not out of the doghouse and is far from it actually, but he can use this positive momentum to fix his reputation and turn the Browns into a formidable opponent for the rest of the AFC North.
While much is left to prove for both quarterbacks, this performance shows that they are up to the task of being the franchise cornerstones they were drafted to be. The one guarantee from this is that The Battle of Ohio is alive and shifting towards being a prime time game for the next decade.