Previewing Game #9 – Browns @ Bengals
A huge game lies ahead for both teams residing in the State of Ohio. In it, first place in the division could be up for grabs, as well as potentially breaking a horrible streak for the visitors. The Cleveland Browns have been putrid on the road within their own division and (more importantly) have not won in Cincinnati since Lee Suggs was galloping down the sidelines. Will the Browns finally get over the hump? Let’s take a gander at what could go down…
Offense: For the second time in two seasons, Brian Hoyer steps into the spotlight for the Cleveland Browns on national television. Last year did not end very well, as the quarterback was sidelined (for the rest of the season) with an injury. I’m hoping that not only can he stay healthy, but also that he can return to form from just a few weeks ago. Hoyer’s output has not been plentiful, yet he gets it done in crunch time; the final stats will be greatly dictated upon their running game.
The most disappointing part of the Cleveland Browns has been their sudden ineptitude after athletes take handoffs from Brian Hoyer. Isaiah Crowell has had three touches in the past two games combined. I have a sneaking suspicion that the rookie will get some opportunities in the backfield. Terrance West has been outplaying Ben Tate the past few weeks; I look for him to spell Crowell on Thursday. The team’s goal must be at least 100 yards rushing, and anything better than that would be a huge plus.
It is a homecoming game for former Bengal Andrew Hawkins. The Browns’ wide out has had some terrific outings this campaign, and coach Shanahan could devise the offensive game plan to feature the offseason acquisition. Taylor Gabriel’s best game came last week, but I worry he will take a step or two back in Cincinnati. The play of veterans Miles Austin and Travis Benjamin could be the difference in the outcome. The tight end position becomes critical, no matter who is blocking and/or hauling in passes. Jim Dray got robbed last week of a great reception, and must make sure that he makes the most of his opportunities.
Many eyeballs will be focused squarely on the play of Nick McDonald, and for good reason. The center has been dominated and abused, and now goes against the likes of Geno Atkins and Domata Peko – two men who are not easy to block. As a fan, it will be a wing and a prayer rooting that the lineman can hold up, but stranger things have happened. While opponents have been watching film on the Browns’ offensive line, the team has seen what opponents have done to stop them. Just after the halfway part of the season, the offensive coaching staff must finally make the correct adjustments to be competent upfront.
Defense: This will be the most difficult test for the defensive line (in several weeks). Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard (if he plays) make up a fearsome duo that can embarrass defenses. Billy Winn put together a solid performance last week; he and Ahtyba Rubin will need to play lights out to make the opponent rely more on Andy Dalton. The goal should not only be to limit the rushers to just double digit yardage, but it must also be to prevent third and one (or two) from occurring on a frequent basis. Pushing back the point of attack on passing downs wouldn’t hurt either.
The guy, who I am looking for a solid game from, is outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard. While his two counterparts (Mingo and Kruger) have stepped their game up over the past few contests, the former Pitt Panther has been far from impressive. Thursday’s outing would be an excellent time to take the orange and black by storm – while making life miserable for the opposing quarterback. While the opponent has some solid pass catchers, Jermaine Gresham is the only option that Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey should have to key on. A turnover by this unit can really make the defense feared – all across the board.
Joe Haden and Donte Whitner have gone from underachievers, to veteran leaders who have made giant plays this season. I have enjoyed seeing the duo team up to steal back the football. Haden has finally played up to his capabilities in coverage as well. The issue has been Buster Skrine and rookie Justin Gilbert. These two have surrendered some longer tosses all year long; Mohamed Sanu and A.J. Green are no slouches either. I got to admit I am worried for these defensive backs in Cincinnati, they better prove themselves.
Special Teams: It won’t be all rosy for the special teams this week, but if they can eliminate long returns and silly penalties then I will be content. The icing on the cake is the punt return game; I shudder when I think of this situation for the Browns. It’s time to get a guy back there with an attitude that he will punish his opponent every time he touches the ball.
Coaching: Mike Pettine will be coaching another game on the road, and I hope he‘s learned from his earlier (aggressive) mistakes. If he takes points over risky situations, the Browns will be in the game later on. With Brian Hoyer under center, I like my chances to pull out an unlikely victory.
Prediction (My Record: 5 – 2): I believe this contest can go one of many ways. The Browns, not surprisingly, fall behind early in this game – only to surge in the second half. At the end, the Browns cannot get it done and lose by the score 27 – 23 and prove they aren’t ready yet for postseason talk just yet.