Overview: The Battle for Ohio is on. If this was a real battle for Ohio shouldn’t it still be Akili Smith vs. Tim Couch? I kid. The Bengals made the playoffs a year ago. They swept the AFC North. In the off-season they added Terrell Owens to the roster. They also drafted Colt McCoy’s favorite college target Jordan Shipley who has been their third receiver all year.
The Bengals come into Sunday’s matchup with the Browns a very shaky 2-1. Browns fans would love to see even a shaky 2-1, but people in Cincy are nervous. Carson Palmer and the passing game aren’t working even with the additions. Marvin Lewis is shaking his head at criticism for not winning pretty, but hopefully that means there is a possibility the Browns can win on Sunday.
Airing it Out: Carson Palmer should be getting better and better from his knee surgery. Instead, many are calling him out for no longer being a player who can be considered even approaching elite. That is a stark contrast from the career arc we thought we would see from Palmer early on in his career. After posting a 92.5 QB rating in week 1 versus the Pats, Palmer has declined in the last two weeks. He had no TDs or INTs against Baltimore while completing under 50% of his passes. Against Carolina, Palmer threw 2 INTs vs. 1 TD while completing just over 50% of his passes. He has taken a sack in each of the games so far.
Especially crazy, in the last game Palmer targeted Ochocinco 12 times completing only 4 passes. Terrell Owens was targeted 9 times and caught 4 passes. For the game, the Bengals only had 195 yards through the air. Maybe it could be a good week for Eric Wright to get back in the saddle. Then again, maybe Palmer and company will be looking to get it going much like Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin did a week ago.
Running it Down: Cedric Benson is the main runner for the Bengals. At 27 years of age, he has a fair amount of mileage on him. He has never played a full 16 game season in his career. Last season Benson averaged 4.2 yards per carry for a career high. So far this season Benson is averaging 3.1 yards per carry with 202 yards on the season.
With the struggles of the passing game, his workload has been pretty intense. In the past two weeks, Benson has 50 carries overall. Against the Panthers he ran 27 times for 81 yards and a TD. The backups aren’t much to talk about.
In the Trenches: The Browns offensive line needs to have a repeat performance of a week ago in terms of run blocking. The Bengals defense has given up over 100 yards per game to opposing teams rushing. It has only yielded one rushing touchdown, but they have given up three rushing plays of 20 yards or more so far.
As I said before, the Bengals offensive line has given up three sacks all year and also 8 tackles for loss, not all of which were probably the line’s fault. Depending on who is healthy on the Browns’ defensive line, they will have to do a much better job of pressuring the QB and not letting Palmer get comfortable like Flacco a week ago.
Special Teams: I don’t know how many weeks in a row, I can say the Browns could have an advantage if they fail to capitalize on it. We know they have the personnel to play dominant special teams in the return game. That being said, they haven’t done it yet between Josh Cribbs not getting opportunities, penalties and just getting bottled up.
Prediction: A week ago, I said it would be a lot closer than the Ravens’ reporters at the Baltimore Sun were thinking and I was right. One writer even had the Browns losing to the Ravens by 27 points 33-6. That turned out to be pretty dumb as the Browns lost by a touchdown. On the season I am now 2-1 predicting the Browns’ wins and losses.
So this week against the Bengals, the Browns are three point underdogs at home. The Bengals won all their division games a year ago, but for whatever reason, at this point in the year they already feel more vulnerable than a year ago. They lost in week 1 to New England and have beaten both Baltimore and the Carolina Panthers since. So while they feel more vulnerable to me than a year ago, I still think they will squeak one out against the Browns.
It will be close and the Browns will make Carson Palmer look human. Ultimately though, I will say the Bengal win 17-7 after tacking on a late touchdown with their three point lead. As always, I hope that I am wrong.