Game #13 – Browns vs. Bengals – A Preview
For the final time this season, the Browns will be playing in front of a home crowd at First Energy Stadium. What was once a promising season has now become a mediocre (at best) club struggling mightily. If nothing else, perhaps they can influence the AFC North race, in terms of the division winner and possible wildcard spots. It seems like a lifetime ago the Browns stomped down the Bengals in Cincinnati – but that’s the NFL for ya. Let’s break down this matchup.
Offense: Finally, Johnny Manziel will be under center for this contest. As much as I love Brian Hoyer – change was necessary. I had zero confidence in this offense the past few games; and this cannot occur in the NFL. Look for a ton of runs to the edge by the signal caller with a run/pass option following that. It would not surprise me to see Manziel account for three touchdowns in this contest; two passing and one rushing.
Run, run, run, and run some more – that should be the game plan for this offense. Isaiah Crowell continues to show his bursts going through the line of scrimmage, while Terrance West can still pick up the tough yards. Straying away from a run-first offense has cost the team several contests this year. They cannot afford to let another victory slip away.
There have been reports about Josh Gordon not being on the same page as his offense, as well as the wide out not finishing routes. Whatever the issue, the talented athlete must shake off whatever his issues are. Perhaps the switch at quarterback will help out the fledgling star. How will Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Travis Benjamin respond to Johnny Manziel? That is a huge question, but one I am looking forward to the answer.
In the passing game, the mobility of Manziel could make the offensive line’s job more difficult on Sunday. All five must keep their eyes open and look to see where number two is at on the field. This could lead to large losses and potentially turnovers. On the positive side, I figure his running will open rushing lanes for West and Crowell. It will definitely be an adjustment for the guys upfront, but hopefully less of one than the defense will to have to do (despite Marvin Lewis’s belief).
Defense: Facing a duo that features Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill will be a tough task for this run defense. Fortunately, this part of the squad has been picking it up as of late – but they cannot afford a setback on Sunday. Desmond Bryant and Ahtyba Rubin have been the standouts as of late; personally, I would like to see them lead the way in stuffing the run and getting to Andy Dalton. Being disruptive is key , much like it was during last meeting, why can’t Desmond Bryant replicate his output?
Paul Kruger, and yes (even) Barkevious Mingo, found the offensive backfield a few times against the Colts. This was the type of performance the Browns were expecting from their first round pick from a year ago. It would be a pleasant surprise should this be the norm, but we shall find out in due time. The inside linebackers have been playing solidly during the absence of Karlos Dansby. I would love to see Chris Kirksey make some impactful plays for this defense; there is a great deal of untapped potential from the rookie.
The Browns’ secondary is coming off probably their best performance in quite some time. Buster Skrine was the only guy who made a mistake or two; he should be able to recover nicely against the Bengals. Can Joe Haden shut down A.J. Green once again? That is a huge uncertainty that could determine the contest’s outcome. Jim Leonhard’s insertion into this defense has been nothing short of exceptional. Two consecutive games with an interception were unexpected from the team’s punt catcher. I’m pulling for three games in a row for the veteran.
Special Teams: Outside of a blunder of a field goal attempt – the Browns’ could not have played any better on special teams last week. Obviously, that will not be the case this Sunday. The Browns cannot lose this matchup decidedly if they want to win the contest. Billy Cundiff and Spencer Lanning must make every kick and punt count.
Coaching: Kyle Shanahan will have his mobile signal caller for this contest. I am eager to see the tricks he pulls out of the bag for this contest. Defensively should be status quo from last week – beat up the quarterback while still focusing on the run. Coach Pettine could have one huge decision to make in this matchup; I hope he chooses wisely.
Prediction (My Record: 8 – 5): Despite the optimism, I think the season is still over for the Browns. They are not going to the postseason, and there have reports of locker room dissention. The defense played their hearts out last week and still lost. I see a similar fate this week, the deflated gang helps Manziel and the Browns score early and lead – only to fall to the Bengals by the score of 27 – 21 and lose their third game in a row.