Preview of Bengals @ Browns – Game #4
After two consecutive road games, the Browns head back home to First Energy Stadium. They are coming off a huge win and are facing a “hot” team in the Cincinnati Bengals. This contest holds a huge swing of momentum – a win and the Browns are back in AFC North contention, while a defeat puts the team in a 0 – 2 hole in the division (and would likely keep them from the top all season long). A victory Sunday won’t come easy, but if Chud and the team can pull it off, fans of the organization will by flying high.
Offense: Brian Hoyer will face a stiffer challenge this week than he did in Minnesota. The Bengals surrendered less than 300 yards through the air by one of (if not the) best quarterback in the game in Aaron Rodgers. Additionally, the defense forced two interceptions and a pair of fumbles. Protection of the football must be a priority for the Browns’ offense. They cannot win multiple games in the NFL succumbing to three interceptions and a fumble. I have faith in the offense under Hoyer; the signal caller overcame mistakes to steal a win in the final minutes. Professional defenses are going to make plays against the Browns; it’s how you react to them that will determine future success. In his first start with the Browns, Hoyer has already shown a better ability to recover after making mistakes than Weeden does.
The only direction the running game for the Browns can go is up; the group produced little when given attempts last Sunday. I do not anticipate runs on third down and short (less than four to gain) situations, but as long as one of the backs can break through the defense once in a while – I will be content. Of the three rushers, Chris Ogbonnaya would be the most likely candidate for a big run or reception. During the game winning drive versus Minnesota, the fullback had an excellent catch and run to make a first down. Bobby Rainey and Willis McGahee were only given a few carries and each struggled to gain yards. I would be surprised if their roles expanded as a result, but if the passing game is successful then the point is somewhat moot.
The arrest of Pac Man Jones (yes, his latest arrest warrants the nickname when he was extremely troubled) could put his status on Sunday in jeopardy. That being said, the Bengals’ secondary could be thin; hopefully leading to a big passing day for the home squad. Josh Gordon will probably not be targeted nineteen times, but I still envision a solid outing. Davone Bess is one of the best third-down wide receivers in the league, but his drops are frustrating for fans. Hopefully he works on that and holds on to everything on Sunday. Will either Travis Benjamin or Greg Little step up this week? They could find themselves with a defensive mismatch – but it will (obviously) come down to execution. Last week was extremely disappointing for this duo; they need to come out with a chip on their shoulder and attempt to replicate Gordon. Jordan Cameron has been spectacular this season; the tight end has four touchdowns (all but one of the team’s total) including a game winner. I expect him to keep it up and give linebackers (like a Vontaze Burfict) fits in coverage.
Another test for the offensive line will occur in this contest. Getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand has been crucial – doing so limits the responsibility of the men upfront. Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are excellent defenders and are coming off an outing that included fourteen tackles and two-and-a-half sacks. Mitch Schwartz will have his hands full off the edge. Up the middle, Alex Mack and the guards will have to defend Domata Peko. The veteran from Michigan State had two stops and a sack against the Packers. There are no weaknesses with the visiting team’s defensive front, so the Browns must have an excellent game plan in order to deal with these guys.
Defense: Giovanni Bernard is beginning to emerge as the Bengals’ premier running back. Some would perceive the smaller runner as a “scat back” who avoids running between the tackles regularly. Therefore, the defensive front will (likely) not have as difficult of a challenge to stop the run as they did against Adrian Peterson. Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis can still carry the ball, but he will get work primarily in red zone or goal-line situations. Phil Taylor and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen have been stout up the middle; the nose tackles are forcing the action outside and giving defenders time to make a play. Desmond Bryant has exceeded expectations thus far – he has notched three-and-a-half sacks and is averaging just less than four tackles per game. I would not be shocked if the former Raider made life miserable for Andy Dalton in First Energy Stadium.
Barkevious Mingo may play every snap with the defense in this game. The rookie has looked brilliant in his two outings; hopefully he can maintain that late in this contest. He and Paul Kruger will have good opportunities to get to the opponent – the Packers took down Dalton four times a week ago. In evident running situations (second and long or third and short), one of these outside backers may leave the field for a defensive end like Billy Winn or John Hughes. If Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson continue to play the way they have been so far, the interior of the defense will sustain greatness. They are strong against the run and have covered well. The Bengals have two great tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert – they might be the best duo the Browns play all year. The inside linebackers might come down to Earth a bit after this game – but I do not see either one being dominated at home.
A.J. Green has been a thorn in the side of Joe Haden over the past two seasons. The University of Florida defender has been great but lost a few battles with the talented wide receiver. Haden will get a chance to redeem himself of Sunday, but it still remains a difficult task. After a tremendous outing, Buster Skrine will match up with second-year pro Mohamed Sanu. The Rutgers product has been solid but has not had a breakout game this year (and hopefully that continues). The safeties have improved significantly from last season, especially T.J. Ward. The strong safety finished last game with eight tackles, a pass defended, and an interception. He and Tashaun Gipson will see many passes coming their way – I anticipate a bigger guy (like either of the two tight ends) hauling a few passes over this duo.
Special Teams: The Browns probably have used up all of their trick plays on special teams for the season already. I like Spencer Lanning over Kevin Huber in the punting game, while the kicking game is a toss-up (especially with Billy Cundiff’s leg injury and subsequent questionable return). Travis Benjamin would have been the better punt returner over Pac Man Jones, but his recent fumble puts doubt in the mind of the fans. I really liked Chud moving Greg Little to kick returner; he never got an opportunity last week – but he can make people miss in the open field. The bottom line is the match up between special teams is extremely difficult to predict – winning on offense and defense is key in this contest.
Coaching: Changing personnel and play calling has worked out for the Browns. I really feel confident with this coaching unit – with one exception. They have led all three contests at the half, but came away with only one victory. It appears that other teams are adjusting better than the Browns are at halftime. I look forward to this changing as the season progresses – there is too much wisdom in the locker room for them to be puzzled in the second half of games.
Prediction (My Record – 1 – 2): I really struggled with this contest; like many games in the NFL, this one could go either way. The Browns will be fired up after Marvin Lewis’s disrespectful comments (stating they won’t have to worry too much after Richardson was traded). However, the Bengals still have the talented roster and A.J. Green has been the difference. The visitors pull this one out with the score being 28 – 24