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Browns defense focused on beating the Bengals in Week 18

Cleveland’s defense looks to close the regular season strong in Cincinnati


The Browns and Bengals are on two different paths in the second installment of the Battle of Ohio this season. While the Browns clinched a playoff berth and claimed the fifth seed, the Bengals have been eliminated from contention. Even though the division rivals are going in different directions, both will still take their Week 18 matchup seriously.

The Browns defense will face off against a Bengals offense that is missing their best player and leader in QB Joe Burrow. The Bengals have been without Burrow since Week 11 when he went down with a season-ending ligament tear in his hand. 

His replacement has been QB Jake Browning, who has completed 69.9 percent of his throws this season. In his six starts this season, Browning has thrown for 1,712 yards and eight touchdowns. He has a record of 3-3 as a starter and a QBR of 58.5.

"Jake's done a nice job," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "I had Jake in Minnesota. He's a person I think very highly of. He's had a ton of success in his life. So, not shocked by the success he's having this season. Really good football player. He's a winner. Athletic, can make all the throws. I think he's running their offense really well. There are subtle differences to what they're doing with Jake versus what they're doing with (Joe) Burrow, just schematically. But he's doing a really nice job."

Since Browning took over as the quarterback, the Bengals offense hasn't undergone any significant changes in the scheme. The main difference has been the quick throws Browning makes. Browning, of course, isn't Burrow, but he still has the same talent around him. Chase, WR Tee Higgins and WR Tyler Boyd have all been reliable passing targets for Browning in his six starts. 

Chase had one of his best games of the season in Week 13 against the Jaguars when he caught 11 passes for 149 yards and scored a touchdown. Higgins had his best game of the season in Week 16 against the Steelers when he caught five passes for 140 yards and scored a touchdown. Boyd has been a reliable receiver in short yardage to help move the chains.

"They always had a good wide receiver corps," S D'Anthony Bell said. "They have some good guys over there. But we believe we are the best in the world and can sit with anybody. We just got to do our job."

The Browns will rest some starters for the game, but the defense should still be dominant as many players have stepped up already this season when a starter went out. S Ronnie Hickman Jr. had to step in recently due to injuries at the safety position. 

Last week against the Jets on Thursday night, Hickman intercepted an errant pass by QB Trevor Siemian and returned it for a touchdown. He finished with four tackles and a pass deflection. Hickman has been in limited action this season but could play more Sunday against the Bengals. 

"The more reps you get, and the more experience you get on the field, the more your confidence will naturally increase," Hickman said. "Making that play is one of those things where you ask yourself, how do you make it again? Continuing to be out there will naturally increase that."

According to Pro Football Focus, Hickman had the highest grade amongst safeties in the NFL for Week 17, with 92.6. The Browns defense played well in Week 17 and proved they can dominate on the road in Week 16 against the Texans.

The Browns defense kept the Texans from scoring for three quarters. The Texans didn't score until the Browns' backups were in play with 6:11 left in the game. They limited the Texans offense to net 178 receiving yards and 72 rushing yards. 

It was their best performance on the road this season against a Texans offense that, at the time, averaged 328.4 passing yards at home. The defense will look to keep this trend going as they play their final away game of the regular season in Cincinnati.

The Browns defense is focused on this week and not worried about the playoffs yet. They still hold the mentality of going 1-0 each week and want to get their 12th win of the season and improve their division record.

"Even though it's the last game of the season, the Bengals are going to come up there guns a-blazing," DE Alex Wright said. "We will do the same thing. At the end of the day, it's still a divisional game, and it will be a battle."

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