Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (98) sacks Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) during the first half of an NFL football game at FirstEnergy Stadium, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

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Browns work through distractions ahead of key tilt vs. Bengals

The Cleveland Browns are packing some extra baggage for their trip to Cincinnati on Sunday as the latest installment of the ‘Battle for Ohio’ against the Bengals approaches.

Call it a suitcase full of distraction.

Speculation is high that wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. won’t play this week, or possibly ever again for Cleveland, following an Instagram video posted earlier this week by his father that was critical of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Beckham did not practice Wednesday, with his absence tagged “Shoulder/not injury related — personal matter.” As several national outlets reported that the team and the 28-year-old were negotiating a way to end their relationship, head coach Kevin Stefanski punted on any further explanation.

“Today he’s excused and we’ll see how it goes,” Stefanski said. “We’ll know more as we go.”

Beckham missed the first two games of the season recovering from ACL surgery last year. He recently has been playing through a shoulder injury and has amassed 17 catches for 232 yards with no touchdowns in six games.

Mayfield, who has just three interceptions but only six TDs this season, said he was surprised by the social media post.

“Hurt? No. Surprised? Yes,” Mayfield said. “I would take anything to have a winning team right now. Our focus needs to be on winning.”

The Browns (4-4), losers in three of their last four, haven’t scored more than 17 points since Week 5.

The Bengals (5-3) aren’t worried about the Beckham drama. Their focus lies in exorcizing last week’s late collapse (34-31) at the New York Jets, and accounting for Cleveland pass rusher Myles Garrett — who leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks.

“You’re always thinking about a guy like that,” said Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow, who is the only quarterback in the NFL to throw at least two touchdowns in every game this season.

The Bengals have lost five of their last six against Cleveland, including both in Burrow’s rookie season in 2020. Burrow accounted for seven touchdowns in the two games, but Garrett notched sack-fumbles in each game as well.

“We go in saying we have to try to protect our quarterback,” said Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor. “We have got to be on top of the details.”

Despite the upset stunner last week, the Bengals are right on the heels of 5-2 Baltimore in the AFC North. With a win against the Browns, Cincinnati would hold a 3-0 in-division record with wins against each of the other teams.

With an improving defense bulwarked by linebacker Logan Wilson (4 interceptions) and DE Trey Hendrickson (7.5 sacks), the Bengals believe they have everything in place to make a division title run.

Running back Joe Mixon adds to the offensive bunch provided by Burrow and rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (38 catches-786 yards, seven TDs).

“We talked about what happened last week and now we’re on to this week,” Burrow said. “It’s a game we need to win.”

The same can be said for Cleveland.

Ravaged by injuries most of the season, the Browns now have the distraction of Beckham’s situation. Asked if there is a “legit” rift in his locker room, Stefanski said: “There’s a legit feeling that we need to get a win this week.”

Cleveland has other lineup shuffling to do, too.

RB Nick Chubb (584 rushing yards, four TDs) has returned, but 16 players landed on Wednesday’s injury report with eight listed as non-participants.

Those DNPs include wide freceiver Jarvis Landry (knee), defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney (ankle/knee/hip) and Takkarist McKinley (groin), defensive tackles Malik Jackson (ankle) and Malik McDowell (illness), safety John Johnson III (neck) and right tackle Jack Conklin (elbow) who is out several weeks.

Cincinnati has been able to avoid major injury issues so far. Only center Trey Hopkins (knee) and edge rusher Cam Sample (knee) were DNPs at practice on Wednesday.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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