As the Browns continue to watch film and break down the Cincinnati Bengals for the second time in 2020, the expectation might be that they're not watching anything they haven't seen before.
Cleveland played the Bengals just five weeks ago, after all, when it won 35-30 in Week 2 on Thursday Night Football. The Browns throttled the Bengals with over 400 total yards on offense and forced two fumbles and three sacks on defense. After suffering a tough Week 6 loss in Pittsburgh, the Browns are hungry to get back on track Sunday with the same big performances against a familiar opponent.
But don't be fooled by the short amount of times between games. The Browns aren't treating the Bengals any differently than a team they haven't seen before.
"They will have some wrinkles for us and we will have some wrinkles for them," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "It's a really good football team. I know they are well-coached. You look at them up across the board on offense and defense, and I think they have a bunch of playmakers."
Since their last meeting, both the Browns and Bengals have painted a clearer picture about what schemes work best among their rosters and which players have become integral pieces to each game plan. For the Browns, the identity of a run-heavy team that has a hankering for turnovers on defense comes at no surprise.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Cincinatti Bengals
The Bengals, meanwhile, have undergone a few transitions on both sides of the ball as they attempt to balance reps between their veterans and young players. And that's where the Browns might need to prepare differently for their rematch.
In previous seasons, the top receiver has always seemed to be A.J. Green, a 10-year veteran who has made a hefty amount of big plays against all AFC North opponents, including the Browns. Green, however, has seen a bit of a slip in targets in lieu of some of the younger receivers the Bengals are hoping to develop in Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, among others.
Boyd, who specializes in playing from the slot, caught seven passes for 72 yards to lead Bengals receivers in the last meeting with the Browns. Higgins, meanwhile, only made three catches for 35 yards in that game but has steadily increased his production each week after the Browns' win. Last week, for example, he made six receptions for 125 yards.
Don't overlook Green — he recorded 96 yards last week, too — but the Browns must prepare for a receiver room that has certainly shown growth over the short time from their last matchup.
"They have a full complement of receivers," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "They have good players out there. You can see them being productive in the passing game. They are probably getting more comfortable with the scheme. It will be another hard game for us where we are going to have to match up and win some outside."
At quarterback, 2020 No. 1 pick Joe Burrow continues to show growth as the Bengals attempt to mold him into a franchise quarterback. After his three-touchdown performance in Week 2, though, Burrow has thrown three touchdowns and three interceptions, including two picks and no touchdowns in the last two games.
Burrow has struggled when facing heavy defensive pressure but remains a threat when given a clean pocket. The Browns were certainly cognizant of that the first time they saw him, but they'll look to ramp up their pressure and force Burrow a bit further away from his comfort zone.
"We knew he was a good quarterback just based on the plays that we saw," Woods said. "Seeing it at field level, he does a nice job of going through his progressions. He is not a one-look quarterback. Overall, as we continue to watch tape, he is really doing a nice job executing their offense. I tell you what, he can take a shot, too."
The Browns are planning for some changes from the Bengals' defense, too. Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, two Pro Bowlers on the defensive line, have seen dips in production and have been used at a less frequent rate then previous seasons. DT Xavier Williams, who signed with the Bengals before Week 6, and DE Amani Bledsoe, who started the season on the practice squad, both started over Atkins and Dunlap last week.
Cincinnati also will be without veteran defensive linemen Sam Hubbard and D.J. Reader, which means that the Browns offensive line could see nearly a full cast of different opponents in the trenches.
"It's going to be challenging," Browns guard Joel Bitonio said. "I think anytime you play a division opponent the second time, there are always new wrinkles and new schemes, and it's going to be what team can kind of adjust on the fly and see what the other team is doing against them."
The Browns have the upper hand thanks to their win in Week 2, but that won't change how they prepare for their second meeting against their in-state rival. Cleveland is hungry for another division win after dropping its second AFC North in a loss at Pittsburgh, so expect the Browns to arrive in Cincinnati on Sunday with the same level of preparation they'd have against any other opponent.
"Our guys really have to go to work this week and understand your opponent," Stefanski said. "We have to see with their personnel changes if that is affecting their schematic changes, and we will kind of see that early on in this game."