Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods doesn't think Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow looks any different than how he played last season when the Browns faced him twice.
Woods, of course, isn't slighting the talents of Burrow, the first overall pick of 2020 and one of the quarterbacks making the most noise for their play so far in 2021. Burrow is sixth in the NFL in passing yards and has the Bengals offense soaring as the seventh-best unit in the league.
"The thing you see is he's very composed," Woods said. "He goes through his progressions. He will stay in the pocket and take a hit to get rid of the ball. He's the same guy — a really good, young player."
The challenge in stopping Burrow, though, appears greater than last season, when the Browns won both their games against Cincinnati despite two games full of high production from Burrow.
That's because Burrow has one of the NFL's most promising receivers with him this season.
Ja'Marr Chase, the fifth overall pick of 2021, has proven to be a tough matchup against other defenses this season and has strong chemistry with Burrow — both players shined at LSU during Burrow's Heisman-winning season in 2019, when the Tigers won a National Championship. Chase ranks third in the league with 786 receiving yards, first with an average of 20.7 yards per reception and has quickly inserted his name into the top class of NFL receivers. He's caught seven of Burrow's 20 touchdowns and has burned opposing defenses with top-tier catching and route-running abilities.
The Browns defense, which ranked 18th in the league but has held opponents to 17 points or less in the last two games, knows they must stop him to keep control of the game.
"He's a lot faster than I think a lot of people thought when he was coming out of college," S John Johnson III said. "He's very aggressive at the catch point. Honestly, looking back, he's probably going to be the biggest physical challenge we go up against on the outside."
Check out exclusive photos from the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus of the Browns preparing for their Week 9 game against the Cincinnati Bengals
Woods isn't surprised to see Chase and Burrow instantly develop great chemistry in Cincinnati. Their hot start is a product of what they developed in Baton Rouge, when Chase caught 1,780 of Burrow's 5,671 passing yards, as well as 20 of his 60 touchdowns in 2019.
The challenge Woods and the defense have this week is to find a way to stop them, which only two defenses have managed to do — that's how many games Chase hasn't found the end zone, although he did amass a respectable 77 yards and 97 yards in each of those games.
"I think it's the timing of the routes," Woods said. "Whenever you see our quarterbacks out here or anywhere I've been, and I think based on the route they are running, the timing and that connection that they know exactly when that guy is going to break his route off or that receiver knows exactly when that ball is coming out."
The Browns are closer to receiving a big boost in their secondary that could help them.
CB Denzel Ward returned to practice this week after missing last week with a hamstring injury. Ward, as well as other top CBs Greg Newsome and Troy Hill, could be fully healthy and back in action for the first time since Week 7, which is when Ward suffered his injury after 39 snaps.
"We're going to see," Woods said. "Today is a big day for him. He's going to be out [on the field]. He will take some practice reps. I think he's feeling better just from the conversations I had with him. It would be nice to have him."
The onus, however, will be on everyone on the defense to do what's necessary in slowing down one of the top duos in the league.
"We have to play at our best to have a chance," Woods said.