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Posted by Sep - 16 - 2012 0 Comment

One week of Browns football is all it has taken for the fans to get into a mid-season fever pitch of  anxiety and aggravation. In the minds of a lot of the fans I have heard  this past week, the match-up with the Bengals is one Brandon Weeden overthrow from being a must-win game. Then again, for this team and its employees, every week is a must win game for them to keep their jobs once new ownership is in place. But let’s not discuss that right here, right now. (OK, my fault for bringing it up. I’m sorry.)

Browns/Bengals week started off well enough with comments from Bengal LB Rey Malaluga saying Browns RB Trent Richardson was “nothing spectacular“, to which Richardson responded with the typical “I let my game speak for itself“. Of course by responding, the play isn’t speaking for itself, but that’s semantics really. Anyway, these two have properly stoked the fires of a once bitter in-state rivalry. It’s not Sam Wyche telling Cincy fans what city they are NOT from via stadium microphone, or a box of Pepto Bismol from Chad Johnson-cinco, but it’s something. My suggestion for Mr. Malauga…make sure your chinstrap is in proper working order. Still, Richardson needs to find daylight and the end zone more than running over defenders come Sunday. His fellow rookie QB could use the help.

The Bengals themselves are coming off of an embarrassing loss Monday night in Baltimore, though at one point it was a one-possession ballgame. Then the Ravens simply took the game over and ran the Bengals out of the stadium. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green looked very mortal after they shared a stellar rookie campaign in 2011, and the Bengal defense did little to get in the way of an emotionally charged Raven offense, led by Joe Flacco (who is the best QB in the league. Just ask him.) So both Ohio teams will be looking to bounce back from uninspiring games last week.

Quick keys to the game:

  • The Bengals clearly have the superior offense in this game, and while the Browns typically would have the better defense the loss of Joe Haden to suspension this week creates a large hole in the secondary. My suspicion is that Dimitri Patterson – who returns from injury this week – will be tasked with covering A.J. Green this week, though over the top help from the safeties will be in order. This defense is not going to shut down Green, but if they can mitigate the damage he can cause, then they will be in a good position to keep things close. If Green gets off, it will be a long day for Browns defenders.
  • While Eagles RB LeSean McCoy got off for 110 yds on 20 carries last week, the Browns run defense played well for the most part. In Cincy, gone is Cedric Benson and he has been replaced by BenJarvus Green-Ellis via free agency. The Law Firm likes to run north and south, and between the tackles. If the Browns can play solid run defense up the middle of the field today, they will effectively make Cincy one-dimensional, though the passing game is their strength on offense.
  • For the Browns to have any hope of neutralizing the passing game of the Bengals, they must pressure Andy Dalton constantly. While he can escape, Dalton is a prototypical pocket passer, and doesn’t escape the pocket much, or well. Last week, the Browns harassed a much more athletic Michael Vick into 4 INTs, recorded 2 sacks, and had numerous hits on him as well as forcing many throws out of bounds to end drives. In a very un-Dick Jauron-like way, they sold out often with safety and cornerback blitzes, bringing pressure from different angles. With Joe Haden out today, there may be more zone defense played by the Browns, which means pressure on Dalton will have to come from the front seven. If the Browns can get a similar effort from their young linebacking corps as they did in week one, you may see exciting things from the Browns defense again this week. If not, Andy Dalton could play pitch-and-catch with Green and spunky TE Jermaine Gresham this week.
  • Offensively for the Browns, it’s obvious. The line must block better (which is to say at all), Weeden MUST hit wide open receivers, and Trent Richardson must move the chains running the football. Those are fundamental aspects of offense, but if the Browns were doing these things, we wouldn’t be discussing them. Unfortunately for Browns fans, the young offense is still in the crawling stage of crawling/walking/running aspects of life.
  • Play calling for the Browns has to improve as well. Last week wasn’t as completely dysfunctional as it typically was in 2011, but it did not show marked improvement. Players looked out of position to make an impact (i.e. Travis Benjamin lined up outside and not in the slot), and running the ball on first down to begin every series of the first quarter made the Browns predictable once again. Something that would be nice to see done with Richardson and was successful a couple times with Brandon Jackson last week was the screen pass. Richardson showed nice hands at Alabama, and getting him in space with room to rumble would help Weeden and the offense extend drives and gain momentum. They also need to work Weeden out of the shotgun more. Lord knows Pat Shurmur loves his quarterbacks to come from under center, but it would help if he tailored some of the gameplan to plays that incorporate the shotgun, where Weeden worked from a lot in college. Other coaches starting rookie QBs last week did so to help bring their young guys along, Shurmur needs to do a bit of that in support of Weeden’s development.

While you hate to be playing must win games in September, the reality is this: if the Browns are not capable of winning games against similar competition in the Bengals this week and Buffalo next week at home, you are staring an 0-5 start in the face before these same Bengals come to Cleveland in mid-October. Last week I said the Browns had to limit rookie mistakes, and take advantage of opportunities. While they did have 4 turnovers, they also created 5 of their own, and scored 16 points off of them. Unfortunately, those were the only 16 points scored as they squandered field position by kicking field goals rather than scoring touchdowns. This offense will need to find the end zone at least twice today to have any hope of beating the Bengals. The defense last week did a commendable job by not allowing the Eagles to score any of their points off of the 4 INTs thrown by Weeden. Asking them to do the same, let alone put points on the board themselves, would be asking an awful lot. I feel the Browns offense will play better, but admittedly it’s not because they inspire confidence, but because you can’t play any worse than they did last week. This week, they are facing a Bengal defense that just lost a very good player in LB Thomas Howard to a torn ACL in practice Thursday. That should give the Browns a little better opportunity to get the running attack on track, which will give Brandon Weeden opportunities to improve his play. Whats more, one of these Browns wide receivers must step up and catch the damn football. Greg Little showed me no improvement from his ailments of last season, typified in the ball that bounced off him and into the hands of former Buckeye Kurt Coleman. Josh Gordon had a couple catches in his rookie debut, and Mo Massaquoi probably would have shown better had Weeden hit him when he was open. Still, Browns receivers still are not creating separation among opposing defenders, and speed alone will not create that for you. And when the ball is in the air, help your QB out by going to get it, not waiting for it to get to you. As well, Brandon Weeden must throw the ball with anticipation and discretion rather than waiting for receiver to pop into open windows like they did in college. Those days are over.

This is a tough game to call. The Bengals will be playing in their home opener looking to erase the bad taste in their mouths from last weeks shellacking in Baltimore. Hungry to take out their frustrations on the Browns, they will be loaded for bear. Still, is this year’s Bengal squad the one that earned a playoff spot last season, or was that an aberration and they are back to being the same old Bengals? Their offense should still be solid, their defense still questionable. For the Browns, it is very much the opposite. So strength on strength, weakness versus weakness. Guess that leads to special teams being the tiebreaker? If so, that’s the Browns today. Hopefully, the offense improves enough to eek out the win. My heart says yes. My brain isn’t so sure. I hope to be wrong here, but there isn’t enough proof of the Browns offense being capable of being counted on for anything yet. May I eat humble prediction pie tonight.

Final Score: Bengals 21, Browns 17.

Categories: Cleveland Browns, Featured

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