Courtesy of MCT
Despite their record, the Cleveland Browns (0-5) have played competitively in every game this year. Last week, they led the defending-champion New York Giants 14-0 before their prolific offense caught fire.
Now they host the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2), who are coming off a disappointing loss at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. In that game, Cincinnati’s high-flying passing game was stifled by a defense that had been ranked 30th against the pass. Trailing by four points in the fourth quarter at home, the Bengals failed to generate offense when they needed it the most with their last two drives ending in a missed field goal and an interception to essentially end the game.
Last week’s loss leaves room for questions. Are the Bengals the team that averaged 13 points per game in their two losses or the squad that kept opponents guessing on their way to scoring 33 points a game during a three-game win streak?
One of their victims during that run was the Browns. But Cleveland’s secondary looks to prevent that sort of production this time around.
In week two, when the Browns allowed Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton to throw for 318 yards, they were without a key component of their defensive backfield, shutdown cornerback Joe Haden.
Now the third-year corner is back after serving a four-game suspension and will be assigned the task of blanketing Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who has 365 yards and three touchdowns receiving in his last three games.
Should Haden be able to shake off the rust and take away Dalton’s favorite target, the Bengals may be exposed for their lack of go-to options on offense.
After Green, there is a steep decline in the talent at the wide receiver position. Andrew Hawkins has done an admirable job in the short passing game and rookie Armon Binns has been relevant. But neither have shown the ability to carry the load. If Green is locked up, Dalton will need tight end Jermaine Gresham to step his game up and play like the Pro Bowler he is.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s running game has not been reliable. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is averaging just 3.3 yards per game and has already fumbled twice. Looking to get something going against the Dolphins, the Bengals turned to running back Bernard Scott. The career-backup showed signs of life with eight carries for 40 yards but sustained a knee injury and will be lost for the season.
Cincinnati cannot afford another weak showing on offense against a Cleveland team that will be on the attack. While the Browns know they may not have the Bengals’ superior offensive personnel or chemistry the likes of the Dalton-to-Green connection, they are not intimidated by Cincinnati’s defense.
In week two, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden passing and rookie running back Trent Richardson each had their most productive games of the year.
Weeden passed for 322 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions while Richardson rushed for 109 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries.
Playing at home with their pride on the line, Cleveland will give the Bengals a good fight, hoping a win will validate and encourage a young squad that is making progress but has nothing to show for it yet.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, looks to prove that last week’s game was a fluke and that their offense can score with the best of them. Another strong showing in the passing game will silence their critics and prove the Bengals are a force to be reckoned with.