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Posted by Nov - 27 - 2011 0 Comment

Pregame pondering about the Browns visit to Cincy…

  • The meat grinder of late season division play is in full effect for both teams as the Browns start their 5-out-of-6 game crucible today in Cincy. The Bengals started two weeks ago by losing at home to Pittsburgh, then last week in Baltimore. Next week, the Browns will face those same Ravens in Cleveland while the Bengals head to Pittsburgh. If the Browns can find a way to win today, and the Bengals can continue with their unexpected season of promise, they will help solidify the idea that the AFC North is the toughest division in the NFL. And if both find ways to pull an upset here or there, they will also cloud up the AFC playoff picture as that toughest division hacks each other up.

 

  • In the opening day loss to the Bengals, the Browns out-bungled them, typically something tough to do. Yet things like the infamous nap coverage play where a quick snap snapped the neck of the Browns in their home opener have sent each team headlong into the directions each have taken so far in 2011. The Bengals have been one of  the surprise teams of 2011 in the NFL. The Browns have invented ways to lose. (Um…surprise?) As the teams circle back to one another today, the Bengals have come back to Earth a little bit with consecutive losses in the division, while the Browns are coming off of a win at home where their offense appears to finally beginning to get on track a bit. It will be interesting to see if the recent trends of both teams continues. Can the Browns continue their acutely angled ascent towards .500 as the Bengals come back to reality? Or will the Bengals heal themselves of the pain of back-to-back losses for the second time this season?

 

  • Each offense will see the return of at least one key player today. The Bengals welcome back rookie WR A.J. Green from a recent knee injury that had him sidelined since the 3rd qtr of the Steelers game. The Browns backfield should be bolstered by the return of both Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty. Hillis is less likely to see as much action as Hardesty as his return is somewhat earlier than expected. But given the recent success of Chris Ogbannaya (40 carries, 205 yds, 2 TD in the last two games), the Browns might have the most formidable rushing attack they’ve had in years today. That will be key against a Bengal run defense ranked in #3 in the NFL. Fresh legs in the 4th quarter will be a huge asset should the Browns find themselves within striking distance of the lead, or (gasp!) find themselves with one of their own.

 

  • Coming into this season, the conventional wisdom was that if you could contain Cedric Benson, you could beat Cincy as their passing attack in recent years had lost its teeth. Not the case so much anymore. Rookie QB Andy Dalton has given legitimate pause to those thinking Cam Newton should just run away with the offensive rookie of the year award. His rookie target A.J. Green has posted similar numbers to Browns rookie Greg Little, but in contrast has done what Little hasn’t – found the end zone. Green’s 6 TDs are the most among rookie wideouts this season. Today, they will face a Browns pass defense entrenched in the #1 spot, giving up a mere 167 yards a game. If the Browns run defense can do the job against Benson they did against Maurice Jones-Drew last week as well as their typical efforts against the pass, the Browns offense should have ample opportunity to possess the football. (What they do with it is anybody’s guess.)

Advantages for the game:

  • Run offense – Cedric Benson is on pace for a pedestrian season by his recent standards, and is averaging 3.8 ypc. This is due in part to the success of the young Cincy passing attack, but one has to wonder if he is losing his effectiveness. The Browns today should have a full stable of running backs for the first time since opening day. Benson has historically had good days against the Browns, though the depth of the Browns running backs today may tip the scale back their direction a bit.  Advantage: Browns
  • Pass offense – While Andy Dalton and Colt McCoy have eerily similar numbers this season, you can’t deny the Cincy passing game has been the more effective component of their team. They are two games over .500 due in large part to the surprising success of young Dalton, who may end up being offensive rookie of the year if the Bengals make a wild card appearance. He does have some quality pass catchers around him and has quickly built a solid rapport with them. Most of all, his head coach believes in him. The same can’t be confirmed on the Northcoast. Pat Shurmur is still publicly challenging Colt McCoy, who has responded with his two best games of the season in the last two weeks. Should that trend continue, it could be a fun game to watch in Cincy despite the wet weather down there. Advantage: Bengals
  • Run defense – The Bengals have the #3 run defense in the NFL, and while giving up just over 100 yards to Ray Rice of Baltimore last week, have pretty much neutralized most of their rushing opposition this season. The Browns are at the opposite end of the spectrum at 28th in the league. They did however keep the aforementioned Jones-Drew well under 100 yards last week, and save for his lone end zone appearance was largely ineffective. But the Browns are a mixed bag when it comes to stopping the run, and the Bengals are a proven commodity in that regard. Advantage: Bengals
  • Pass defense – For as good as the Bengals are against the run, the Browns are better against the pass. At least that’s what their #1 ranking in the league would have you believe. But the Browns have given up big plays through the air, especially across the middle where the aging Browns linebackers have had difficulty covering the opposing team’s tight ends. And while injured safety T.J. Ward lacks the coverage ability you’d like in a defensive center fielder, his ability to mute the opposition’s run-after-catch is sorely missed. Yet, teams still can’t find a way to throw for 170 yards against them. What they will need to do today is get sacks on Andy Dalton, something their Bengal counterparts are doing very well. Cincy has 26 sacks on the season, the most under coach Marvin Lewis to this point in a season. What is hurting the Bengals is the loss of their two all-pro corners to injury this season, most notably Leon Hall, one of the better cover corners in the NFL. Though the often injured and arrested Adam Jones is back, his coverage skills have typically been over-hyped. Advantage: Browns
  • Special teams – Former Buckeye Mike Nugent is kicking very well for Cincy this season, and is as reliable as his Cleveland counterpart Phil Dawson. Bengal return teams occasionally have the flair for the dramatic and can pop a big play on occasion. But Josh Cribbs has made a career out of that. Not much to debate here. Advantage: Browns

Prediction:

The Bengals are reeling after back-to-back losses in the division, and are at risk of losing their grip on a wild card berth. They come into today’s game with the confidence that comes with having beaten the Browns already this season. The Browns come into today riding as much momentum as a one-game winning streak can provide but in reality are a much improved team from the one the Bengals faced on opening day. The weather in Cincy could prove impact the game today, as it’s windy and raining on the banks of the Ohio River. Might that neutralize the young, exciting Bengal passing attack? Can the Browns find on film what has cost the Bengals their last two games and exploit it? Will Pat Shurmur continue to allow his young learned QB to make plays in his offense and keep the Browns in the game all day long? This is a watershed game for both teams. The Bengals losing 3 in a row, and all to division opponents, would likely undo all they have worked for to this point in the season. The Browns winning would continue to give a young, growing team confidence. Of the remaining division games the Browns have, today’s is the most likely to be won. Do they have what it takes to take advantage of a reeling Bengal team, or will they be the elixir the Bungles need to get back into the fight atop the AFC North? Maybe this is my top o’ the mornin’ Irish coffee talking, but I think the Browns shock some folks today and eek out their most unlikely win to date in 2011. Prediction: Browns 20, Bengals 17.

 

Categories: Cleveland Browns

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