Game #6 – Bengals @ Browns Preview
The Browns will have their first chance at revenge this season when they face their in-state rivals to the south. Hopefully the combination of returning back home (with yours truly in attendance) and getting Joe Haden back will bring the locker room together and inspire the franchise. Being the only defeated team in the NFL, the Browns need to get their monkey off their back ASAP; another opportunity to do so presents itself on Sunday.
Offense: Down in Cincinnati, the Browns’ rookie quarterback had a good performance (twenty-six of thirty-seven for 322 yards and two touchdowns). The Bengals have been without their first-round draft pick cornerback, Dre Kirkpatrick, who could make it tougher for Weeden if he finally gets to see the field Sunday. The Browns are facing a defense who, just last week, lost to a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. The passer threw for only 223 yards but, more importantly, he did not turn the football over. I believe the Browns can build off their last performance against Cincinnati – provided Weeden learned from his two mistakes in New Jersey. Against the Giants, it was refreshing to see the team finally come out and take an early lead; the offense did that by both the run and pass. That can continue this week – I am hoping for quick strikes or a deep throw, similar to the one we saw to Josh Gordon.
Although the Dolphins had two touchdowns on the ground last week, they were limited to sixty-eight rushing yards against the Bengals. To me, Trent Richardson is a much better running back than Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, but the rookie may find yards hard to come by on Sunday. One concerning statistic: the longest run the Bengals have given up the last two games is thirteen yards. Nonetheless, Pat Shurmur must continue to run the football – getting away from this game plan has been second-guessed due to missed opportunities by the offense (during advantageous situations). Like all the games so far, the rushing totals will be important, but it will neither win nor lose the game (single-handedly) for the Browns. I anticipate that both the starter and Chris Ogbonnaya will record a couple receptions and gain decent yardage as well; this has been one of the most consistent parts of the offense.
I look forward to seeing how Jordan Norwood and Josh Gordon respond to their success of last week. The two, young receivers had excellent games – in terms of touchdowns (two) for Gordon and receptions (nine) for Norwood. I hope the Browns’ game plan includes several routes featuring the two wide outs; the pair can get the offense going. Mohammed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin have been battling hamstring injuries, and they both might be available to help the team. Should this occur, expect to see several plays we did not see last week (i.e. quick hitches and deeper slants). The more receivers that are healthy for the Browns hurts the chances that Greg Little will be involved. It is nearing make-or-break time for the North Carolina athlete; he has yet to prove to be one of the best eleven on the field (at one time). Little showed some promise at the end of last season, but that has not resurfaced in 2012. As far as tight ends go, veteran Alex Smith may return from his concussion sustained a few weeks ago. Outside of a couple receptions from Ben Watson and Jordan Cameron, this unit’s production has fallen off since Smith’s injury.
The offensive line will look to continue their success of giving Weeden time to throw, as well as making it easy for Richardson to run. The Bengals recorded two sacks last week, six the week prior, and two against the Browns in week two – it appears their defensive front will attempt to bring pressure, it just comes down to how well they can get by the offense. Geno Atkins, the defensive tackle, accounted for three takedowns of Blaine Gabbert – Alex Mack and the two young guards must focus primarily on the third year veteran. If the Browns can limit their number of sacks to two or fewer (assuming there are no related turnovers as well), the offense should avoid dire situations. They must eliminate holding penalties as well; these have continually killed drives. In the running game, defensive end Michael Johnson and tackle Domata Peko have routinely been in on tackles. I liked the way Mitchell Schwartz has come along the last few weeks; he has been giving Browns fans hope that Richardson will have room to run after getting the hand off.
Defense: After a extremely poor performance, the Browns’ defensive line has a chance to redeem themselves on Sunday. They gave up over two hundred forty yards rushing last week, but will now face a team who has not had a one hundred yard rusher this season. Recent history has shown the Browns have struggled against elite runners (LeSean McCoy, Ahmad Bradshaw, C.J. Spiller – pre-injury), while holding serviceable backs (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard Scott) in check. This fact should be rather obvious, but it can help calm fans’ worries. The matchup against the Bengals includes defending a good (not great) running back; reserve rusher Scott is injured and will not be able to carry the ball, as well. It will be up to the front four to put the defense in manageable situations, thus allowing the team to get off the field and get the ball to the offense. John Hughes and Frostee Rucker both played well in the first meeting (ten tackles and two sacks); hopefully the two with Cincinnati ties can play inspired again. Billy Winn and Jabaal Sheard need to step up as well – each had solid performances two weeks ago but have underwhelmed otherwise.
D’Qwell Jackson’s status for this contest will be vital for the defense – he left the previous contest with a concussion, while the defense suffered. The former Maryland standout totaled three sacks the last time the Browns faced the Bengals; he was the only linebacker to get to Andy Dalton on a consistent basis. There was no evidence of this last week, as little pressure came from the front seven and zero sacks were recorded. The defense must take Cincinnati out of their comfort zone if they want to be in the game – disruption needs to come from multiple players as well. Craig Robertson has done pretty well in coverage and may be responsible for Jermaine Gresham (who had a quiet game last meeting). Depending on the availability of a few secondary members, a couple linebackers (L.J. Fort or James Michael-Johnson) will likely see more action this week. The opposite is true should the opponent get comfortable in the passing game.
Andy Dalton put on a clinic against the Browns last meeting (throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns). The defensive unit was without their best player, and the younger members could not keep pace with the wide outs. Even with Joe Haden returning, I expect the defense to surrender a fair amount of passing yards. The difference has to be in avoiding the long plays that plagued the secondary (i.e. two touchdowns of over forty yards). Dimitri Patterson will likely be out this game with his ankle injury; therefore Buster Skrine will again see a fair amount of action. He has given up a few big plays this season but continues to fight week-to-week. Unlike the last contest, I believe the Browns will have an opportunity to force interceptions against the Bengals. They are not facing a quarterback with the skill level of Eli Manning – they go against a second year veteran who has been mistake-prone (i.e. he threw an interception to D’Qwell Jackson in week two).
Special Teams: Many fans cannot forget the eighty-one yard punt return touchdown given up by the Browns to “Pac Man” Jones. Fortunately, the team has not had any similar gaffes in the weeks following; they must ensure this continues on Sunday. The units have played relatively well (outside of a rare turnover). The special teams were the difference in the first meeting and a critical part of last week’s game – the Browns have got to get an edge here if they want to secure the victory.
Coaching: Last week’s game led to scrutiny from both the fans and media regarding play calls. Following the contest, Shurmur appeared agitated and was verbally sparing with reporters. The altercations could intensify this week, especially if the Browns’ offensive falters in critical situations. As previously stated, winning will cure all of this, and hopefully the head coach can finally break down a victory. Defensively, I look for more man-to-man coverage than their has been the past few weeks; Haden will likely guard A.J. Green, but a few of the younger veterans might need help from the safeties. Forcing Dalton into mistakes will be attempted by dialing up more blitzes.
Prediction (My Record: 3-2): I thought the Browns would defeat the Bengals the previous meeting and was wrong. Call me crazy, but I am picking the Browns to win again (hopefully I get it right this time). I think the Browns go to 1-5 after a 24-20 triumph.