Just as it was the case in the Week 2 meeting between the Browns and the Bengals, stopping running back Joe Mixon is the critical matchup to watch.
Mixon is one of the most talented backs in the NFL, and, dating back to his rookie season in 2017, he has averaged 93.4 yards (on 4.8 yards per carry) with 0.6 touchdowns rushing, while adding 3.3 receptions for 34.2 yards receiving per game in seven games against the Browns.
In those seven career meetings with the Browns, Mixon's individual success has closely mirrored the Bengals team success. When Mixon rushes for 100-plus yards against the Browns, the Bengals are 2-1. When the Browns bottle up Mixon on the ground and keep him below the century mark, the Browns have a solid 3-1 record. The Browns have only allowed one rusher to eclipse 100 yards against them in 2020, and it came in last week's loss to the Steelers, as James Conner netted 101 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. No other running back has even rushed for 60 yards against the Browns this year, and they are 4-1 in those other five games.
That trend has continued for Mixon and the Bengals against all opponents in 2020, as well. Mixon rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the Bengals' lone win this year, a 33-25 victory over the Jaguars. In the team's five other contests, Mixon has not rushed for more than 69 yards and is averaging just 55.4 yards rushing per game on 2.9 yards per carry.
In the Browns' Week 2 victory over the Bengals, Mixon ran for a season-low 46 yards on 16 carries (2.88 yards per carry) and the Bengals had to throw the ball 61 times as a result. Throwing the ball 50-plus times is rarely a recipe for victory in the NFL, and it will once again be the goal of the Browns to limit Mixon and make the Bengals one-dimensional on offense. That will enable to the Browns to put rookie Joe Burrow into obvious passing situations on third down, which frees up Myles Garrett and the pass rush to get after Burrow, who has been sacked 24 times this year, second-most in the NFL.
Limiting Mixon and pressuring Burrow should help generate turnovers for the Browns defense, which is a key piece of their winning formula.
Check out the best photos from the Cleveland Browns game against the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday by the Browns photo team