5 Impactful Plays and Players From Week 1 Bengals Game

September 13, 2023

Tony Camino

Standout Plays from the Game Versus the Bengals


Defense shines week one dominance over Bengals

The Browns could not have gotten off to a better start in 2023, especially on the defensive side. The weather conditions made it tough for offenses to get going, but the Browns’ defense capitalized and looked tremendous in their 2023 debut. Offensively, the running game is clearly still there, and there’s an added wrinkle with a QB who can run. The passing game wasn’t perfect, but it was effective enough to get the job done. Here are five plays from the week one win that stood out.


1. Ward & Delpit Stop On 3rd & Short

Early in this one, the Bengals faced a 3rd & 1 in their own territory. The Browns played man coverage at about the fifth-highest rate in week one, continuing the theme from the preseason. The Bengals lined up with two receivers on each side of the formation on this snap, with the tight end positioned in the core on the same side as Ja’Marr Chase. The tight end is running a route right at the first-down marker off of Chase, who is running directly at the tight end’s defender for a rub route.


The play seems to work at first, as Delpit gets slightly stuck on the rub route by Chase. Ward does a great job of recognizing the play and waits for Burrow to release the ball before abandoning his route to help stop the tight end short of the first-down marker. Delpit also manages to get through enough, and the ball is jarred free for a massive stop on 3rd and short.

Winning on 3rd and short when the offense is ahead of the first-down marker is a significant trait for a defense. The Browns have shown they can be successful in blanketing man coverage and plays like this really set their defense apart from others in the NFL.


2. 3rd & 1 JOK Run Stuff

Another 3rd-and-one situation early in this game showcases the Browns’ front seven’s ability to make crucial stops when needed. The Bengals line up in the shotgun formation here, with the right guard aiming to combo block the three-technique before moving into the second level to seal off Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who is lined up as a 20i linebacker. Similar to every other run play in this game by the Bengals, they either sent a receiver in motion in the opposite direction of the run or executed an RPO screen to gain an advantage in the numbers game.


JOK showcases his incredible athleticism in this play, beating the guard off the combo block and bending under him to penetrate the backfield. Simultaneously, Za’Darius Smith completely dominates the tight end, and Mixon faces defenders in his face right away. After maneuvering under the guard, JOK makes the tackle for a loss, getting the Bengals’ offense off the field once again on 3rd and short.

Two instances in the first half of stopping the Bengals on 3rd and one are a recipe for success moving forward. The Browns’ ability to stop short runs and cover short passes is evident in these situations, and it’s truly impressive to witness their success on crucial downs. JOK appears as explosive as he did in his rookie year, and the improved defensive line should help him have a career year.


3. Deshaun Watson’s Tight Window Throw on the Crucial Touchdown Drive

On the most important drive of the day, the Browns had first and ten in Bengals territory with around a minute left in the half. They lined up in a three-by-one formation, with three receivers bunched together to the field. The number one receiver, Donovan Peoples-Jones, ran an out route to the sideline. The number two receiver at the point of the bunch initially released inside ran vertically and then broke off his route toward the middle of the field at about ten yards. David Njoku ran directly off the point man and proceeded vertically up the seam


The Bengals are running split coverage on this play, employing man defense with safety help to the boundary and zone coverage at the top, where they have a four-on-three advantage. The delayed break of the route from the number two receiver in the middle of the field keeps the safety on that side away from the other routes. David Njoku’s vertical route up the seam compels both deep zones on that side to pay attention to him, opening a window on the sideline.

The timing of the throw is perfect, as it keeps the safety over the top away from the sideline, and forces the underneath defender to briefly consider Njoku, creating a narrow opening. This is a very tight-window throw, and Watson places it perfectly for a substantial gain during the most crucial drive of the game.

Arguably Deshaun Watson’s best throw of the day, this pass demonstrates his capabilities. While some throws were underthrown due to the weather and minor mechanical issues, Watson showcased what he can bring to this offense even in rainy conditions like this one. Some things can certainly be cleaned up, but if Watson trusts himself and takes what the defense gives him, this passing attack will be a formidable threat.


4. Myles Garrett Saves a Potential Big Play

In a zone coverage look, the Bengals had a rare first down in Browns’ territory in the second half. Off of this RPO look, which the Bengals consistently displayed throughout the game, Ja’Marr Chase bubbles out while the quarterback and running back mesh. The two play-side receivers initially show blocking before breaking into two vertical routes.


Rodney McLeod reacts to the Chase bubble, creating an opening in the secondary. Greg Newsome appears somewhat confused by this, resulting in a moment where he and McLeod are right next to each other. Nobody gets their hands on Tyler Boyd or drops deep to cover him, and there was certainly a window for a big throw. Fortunately, Myles Garrett is on the roster and beats his man badly, compelling Burrow to step up instead of making the throw to his open receiver. When he steps up and finally throws, Za’Darius Smith hits him, causing the ball to sail out of bounds.

Plays like these may not appear on TV or in the box score, but they exert immense pressure on the defensive line, disrupting a potential big play. The Bengals executed a well-designed play that momentarily puzzled the Browns’ secondary. It seems as if Newsome may have been out of position and needed to cover that zone in the cover-three scheme, emphasizing the importance of defensive communication to prevent big plays. The defense displayed excellent communication throughout the game, but this serves as a teaching moment.


5. Grant Delpit’s PBO Caps Off a Big Day

Grant Delpit had a career day, as reported by PFF and evident in the film, and this play capped it off with excellent coverage. The Browns deploy their typical two-high shell, with one safety moving down to play the middle of the field as a ‘robber’ while the other safety provides help over the top. The rest of the players are in man coverage, and the Bengals are running an outside-release vertical route to Tee Higgins in the slot.


Delpit stays with Higgins stride for stride on this deep route, diving to bat the ball away at its highest point. Delpit’s coverage on Higgins is textbook man coverage, showcasing his versatility in locking up a premier receiver in the slot.

Delpit had a career day, finding success in various roles—whether in the box, in the slot, or as a deep safety. This game demonstrated exactly what we expected when we drafted him in 2019, and the new Jim Schwartz defense appears to bring out the best in him. Alongside Juan Thornhill and the talented cornerbacks, the Browns’ secondary is rapidly becoming one of the top units in the NFL.


Recap

This was a dominating and impressive week one win, with the defense clearly standing out. The defensive line and secondary performed exceptionally well in the new scheme and can make life very difficult for opposing offenses throughout the season. On the offensive side, the running game was as effective as ever, and Watson showcased the added dimensions he brings. Passing efficiency needs improvement moving forward, but there is plenty to be excited about and build upon as the team heads into week two against the Steelers.

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