Game #10 Preview – Browns @ Bengals
After a short layoff, the Browns now head down I-71 to face their in-state rivals in the Bengals. They have defeated all of their division foes over the past twelve months, something that has not been seen for some time. However, all three of their wins were at First Energy Stadium – the next step the team has to take is to win on the road. Doing so will further help the transition from a decent team to a contender that the league will have to take seriously. The Browns have only won a single game (this season) on the road; I expect that total to rise. Sunday’s matchup is a tremendous opportunity for that to occur.
Offense: Another tremendous defense awaits Jason Campbell and the Browns. Last week, the Bengals held Joe Flacco to 140 yards passing – while sacking him five times, forcing a fumble, and catching a pair of interceptions. Campbell must (once again) limit his mistakes against an opportunistic unit. With a weapon like A.J. Green, the opponent can convert a turnover into a touchdown in a matter of seconds. Therefore, I anticipate a game plan similar to what we saw against the Ravens. Campbell will spread the ball around significantly and avoid forcing any throws to one target. His ability to escape from the pass rush has been one of his greatest assets and will be needed on Sunday. The quarterback will probably throw for just under 300 yards and take a couple of sacks. However, should he continue to play “keep away” from defenders – the Browns’ chances will (once again) be great.
The running back position was discussed in Chud’s press conferences over the bye week. The end result is that Chris Ogbonnaya will see more touches going forward. Fans should get excited about this, as Willis McGahee has been rather disappointing – especially as of late. The only reservation (I have) about this, is the potential for fatigue or injury by the smaller back. Ogbonnaya is already a reliable special teams athlete and a fullback used for blocking and picking up blitzes. On Sunday, I hope he is either limited at fullback or is taken off special teams – over programming could end up costing the team. I have faith Chud and Turner will know what to do with Ogbonnaya, as well as to define the roles for McGahee and Fozzy Whittaker. I would expect the latter to be involved more in the passing game.
Last contest really surprised me, and I was grateful to see so many wide receivers contribute to the passing attack. However, I am not certain that Greg Little and Davone Bess can regularly dominate contests the way they did against the Ravens. If this duo can secure several receptions and even find the end zone, then big things will come. Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron will bounce back from their less-than-stellar outings – the wide out should grab several longer throws while the tight end gets catches in the red zone. Something concerning is the lack of output by the Bengals’ previous opponent – Torrey Smith was the only receiver to accrue more than two grabs and twenty yards. The Browns will game plan to get many involved, especially early on – doing so will make defensive assignments difficult for the secondary.
Even with the loss of Geno Atkins, the Browns have to limit a restless defensive front. Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are consistent on the edges, while Domata Peko makes it difficult to move the ball up the middle. However, Jason Pinkston is available to play in his first contest of the season (after returning from the IR); I am intrigued to see what the coaching staff decides to do with him, Shawn Lauvao, and John Greco. The running game has not excelled, perhaps this could change with a different combination of guards. A pair of linebackers has been amazing for the Bengals, and the Browns will have their hands full. Vincent Rey and Vontaze Burfict are coming off a game with a combined twenty-seven tackles, three hits on the quarterback, three sacks, and four passes defended. There’s a good chance that Jordan Cameron or Chris Ogbonnaya will be asked (more than usual) to help in pass protection.
Defense: I expect to see more of the same from the defensive line of the Browns. The unit has been dominant, especially against the run. Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis continues to look mediocre this season – that should continue at Paul Brown Stadium. The wildcard is Giovanni Bernard; the rookie was limited in their previous meeting, but he has made several magnificent plays ever since. Just one long burst can be huge for the opponent; it forces the Browns to respect the run and it gives the Bengals confidence. Bernard’s speed on the edge puts more pressure on Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant to funnel runs inside towards Phil Taylor. Along these lines, Billy Winn and John Hughes will probably see a fair amount of snaps to spell the starters and allow the defense to continue its aggressiveness.
The continued improvement by Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger is comforting to Browns’ fans. Couple that with the steadiness of Jabaal Sheard, and the outside linebacker position is finally becoming the strength that many perceived it to be. The Ravens were able to take down Andy Dalton five times last week; I feel confident that the Browns can do similar damage against their opponent. The trio (without the services of Quentin Groves) can be disruptive and alter the offensive play calling. I like seeing the growth of Craig Robertson’s play; he still is not a Pro-Bowler, but his coverage is improving, and he excels at stopping the run. Germaine Gresham was sidelined last week – permitting Tyler Eifert to be the main option at tight end. Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson will have an arduous time trying to mask the former Notre Dame athlete and Bernard. Limiting this duo is a priority for the defense; doing so leaves everything up to Joe Haden.
A.J. Green was bottled up (for the most part) last week – until the last play of regulation. The wide out caught a Hail Mary touchdown pass en route to a eight catch and 151 yard day. Haden will be busy again, but I love the personal challenges he puts on himself every contest. Yards may be plentiful for the former Georgia star, but keeping him out of the end zone is the main responsibility of the secondary. Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones have been inconsistent in their roles so far – as a result, Buster Skrine and Chris Owens will have an opportunity for great outings. This contest could be a redeeming one for Tashaun Gipson. The free safety had an off game last week, but I expect Dalton to make a couple of tosses in the middle of the field (whether it’s to Eifert or a wide receiver). Gipson will have a shot to get his hands on the football – coming down with one or two would be enormous for this defense.
Special Teams: This is a matchup where the special teams can favor the visitors. Both kickers are relatively even, and I like Spencer Lanning’s output over Kevin Huber’s. Like many contests, the outcome could come down to kick coverage and the potential for a long return. Brandon Tate and Pac Man Jones have both shown an ability to spring long runs, but I don’t see the Browns letting that happen. Chris Tabor has been excellent at shuffling personnel around all year long – will Armanti Edwards be the next returner to make a huge play?
Coaching: Each week I believe that Chud and his staff cannot outdo their prior performance, and that’s exactly what seems to occur. The Browns lead the league in fourth down attempts (with nineteen) and are converting just over half of them. I understand that some of these “gutsy” calls will backfire, but I am enjoying the ride so far. Similarly, Horton’s blitzes appear to be run perfectly – with eleven sacks in the past two contests. I fear a signal caller who gets the ball out quickly and delivers it to a target while the defender’s back is turned. This game will likely be dictated by a huge decision the coaching staff will have to make – for the Browns’ sake, I hope it’s the right one.
Prediction (My Record: 6 – 3): Another tough one to call for me. I would not be surprised to see either team win in a variety of ways. The Bengals are coming off a pair of losses, while the Browns won their last contest and rested this past week. The positive momentum continues for the team to the north and the Browns finally get a win at Paul Brown Stadium (for the first time since 2008) by the score of 27 – 23.