|Browns, Bengals both searching for 1st wins of season|
The Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, both 0-3, meet on Sunday in FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, each still looking for an identity as the season reaches the quarter pole.
Browns head coach Hue Jackson was the Bengals offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015 before leaving Cincinnati in January of 2016 to become head coach of the Browns. His knowledge of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green should benefit the Browns in their defensive preparation, but any advantage they get from that is wiped out by the Bengals knowing what Jackson likes to do offensively.
The Bengals, after struggling to score in the first two games, scored 24 points last week against the Green Bay Packers, but could not hold on and lost 27-24 in overtime. Still, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is encouraged that maybe the offense is getting untracked after Dalton threw one touchdown pass to Green and another to Giovani Bernard for Cincinnati's first two offensive touchdowns of the season.
Now he wants his team to complete the job.
"We have to get our butts going right now, right away," Lewis said. "This is an important football game. We've got to get things turned around. Both teams want to win this football game."
Dalton is 9-3 as a starting quarterback against the Browns since being drafted by the Bengals in the second round in 2011. Green has played in 11 of those games and has 52 catches for 824 yards and six touchdowns.
Tight end Tyler Eifert has also been lethal playing the Browns, but the Bengals won't have him Sunday because he is sidelined with a back injury. Eifert has five touchdown catches in five games against the Browns.
Both teams are hoping for a major boost on defense, and both teams can use game-changers on that side of the ball.
Fiery linebacker Vontaze Burfict is back for the Bengals after serving a three-game suspension for a violent hit in preseason on Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman.
"He's a great energizer with his energy, with his knowledge of the game and his knowledge of the opponent," Lewis said. "He's another extension of the defensive coaches out on the field, into the huddle and at the line of scrimmage."
Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer has no film from this regular season of Burfict to study, so he has gone back to look at film of the the Bengals linebacker from previous seasons. It is a critical matchup in the game, because Kizer likes to run with the ball and he knows Burfict will show no mercy.
"We can see his tendencies and I can use my teammates' knowledge from playing against him," Kizer said. "He's definitely one of their key guys. Every week it's our job to stop the opponent's key player, so he's definitely a guy we'll be keeping an eye on."
Rookie defensive end Myles Garrett, the first pick in the 2017 draft, is hopeful of making his debut for the Browns after missing the first three games with a sprained ankle. He did not practice Wednesday.
"He's close," Jackson said. "I think there's a chance he will practice this week, so we'll see where we are after that.
"He just needs to practice. If he is able to play, we might not play him the whole game. We'll see how that unfolds if he is able to go. We'll find out more as we go through the week."
Garrett was injured in practice four days before the season opener with the Steelers on Sept. 10. The Browns defense has improved overall under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, but they need to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Garrett did not practice Wednesday.
Three games into the season, opposing quarterbacks have a 102.2 passer rating against the Browns with five touchdown passes and two interceptions. By contrast, Kizer and Kevin Hogan have a combined passer rating of 55.4 with four touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
The game could ultimately come down to which team runs the ball better. So far, neither the Browns nor the Bengals have displayed the run offense they hope to display. Bengals rookie Joe Mixon has 36 carries for 107 yards. Isaiah Crowell has 114 yards on 39 carries for the Browns.
Eifert, linebacker Jordan Evans (hamstring), wide receiver John Ross (knee), safety Derron Smith (ankle) and safety Shawn Williams did not practice with the Bengals on Wednesday.
Aside from Garrett, linebacker Jamie Collins (concussion), left tackle Joe Thomas (knee), wide receiver Sammie Coates (hamstring), wide receiver Kenny Britt (knee) and tight end Randall Telfer (knee) did not practice with the Browns on Wednesday.