Regardless of whether you believe any or all of the rumors swirling around Berea regarding Eric Mangini’s future, you have to think that this game—the last one this year in which the Browns are even going to be close to expected to win—is one he really has to have. The Bengals are on a 10-game
winning (wow! whoops!) losing streak, which was started all the way back in September in Cleveland against the Browns. Can Cleveland push it to 11 and cement a non-last-place finish for the first time since 2007?
It hasn’t been a good year on offense for the orange helmets of the NFL. Cincinnati and Cleveland are 24th and 29th respectively in yards for the year, and 20th and 28th in points scored. The biggest different for the Bengals this year, however, is their rushing offense. They are 30th in the league in rushing yards per game. The biggest reason for this losing streak for the Kitties, though? The defense. What was a strength for them last year has been a weakness this year, as they’re allowing 26.5 points a game. The Browns, by comparison, are allowing just 19.4. Colt McCoy gets the nod this weekend for the Browns, which many consider to be good news after the anemic offensive performances the past three weeks under Jake Delhomme. But, let’s not forget the second half against Jacksonville… not much offense there, either. Without further ado…
The Browns Will Win If…
Craig: …they can keep T.O. contained. The Browns have done a nice job defensively against the run for the most part this year. They need to keep Carson Palmer, Ochocinco, and T.O. looking as pedestrian as they have looked the rest of the year. Obviously Colt McCoy and the offense need to get some points on the board, but I am expecting them to look a bit energized with McCoy back under center healthy and making plays with his feet. We’ll see. First things first, the Browns defense needs to keep the game winnable for the offense. That means they need to have a good day and probably win the turnover battle. Even without turnovers they need to force punts, which is something they have struggled with a bit this year.
Scott: …they can get to Carson Palmer. I know that TJ Ward and Joe Haden are rookies, but if Matt Roth, Marcus Benard and Shaun Rogers can get Palmer moving – and not allow him to have 10 seconds to allow plays to develop – they will be able to force just as many mistakes as were seen last week. Naturally, Reggie Hodges and Peyton Hillis will be just as vital as they were in weeks past, but I think that this team can methodically move the ball (can a brother get a touchdown??), play mistake free offense, and win this one by attacking the quarterback. The Bengals have all but given up on Cedric Benson – he’s averaging 65 yards per game – so it will be about neutralizing Palmer, Owens and Ochocinco.
DP: …they can score touchdowns. Last week’s opening drive that made it to the Bills’ one yard line and stalled is symptomatic of a larger problem: the Browns are OK between the 20s on offense, but can’t punch it in when they need to. For all of the Bengals’ problems this year, we all can still remember the clinic TO put on back in September; in short, the Bengals still have some capability to score some points (Carson Palmer also has 21 TD passes on the year). The Browns have to score to match them. Colt McCoy will have to be willing to make some throws longer than the 3-yard crossing routes that became Delhomme staples last week. On defense, the Browns should be able to slow down the Bengals’ running attack, and if they can force Palmer into some mistakes (in addition to his TDs, Palmer has 18 INTs and the Steelers returned TWO of them last week for TDs) that should help to stem the tide. Winning the turnover battle will be key. McCoy and Hillis need to take care of the ball, and the Browns’ secondary needs to nab a couple of Palmer passes.
Rick: …they do a better job of winning the first down battle. The last few weeks have been awful, leading to third and 5+ situations. Colt’s mobility should be a decided advantage this week over Delhomme, even with a bum ankle. Will McCoy’s presence bring a return to creative play-calling? Hopefully. And hopefully the offensive line guts out a better performance. Defensively, the secondary has to be better against Owens than they were the first time these two played. I’m quite interested to see Haden on Owens. The front seven also needs to play a better game. They are giving up way too many yards on the ground. In this league you have to make teams one-dimensional, and the Browns aren’t doing a great job at that. Cincinnati wants to throw the ball, and with decent play up front the Browns should force them into passing downs. Then I’d like to see Ryan bring the pressure.
Andrew: …they capitalize on field position and turnovers by scoring TDs rather than settling for FGs. It’s fascinating how similar the yardages are for both these defenses. The Browns are 21st in yards against while Cincy is 20th. Browns are 16th in pass yards allowed while Cincy is 15th. Browns are 23rd in rush yards while Cincy is 24th. And yet, despite that, the Browns are 11th in the NFL is points allowed per game (19.4 pts) while the Bengals come in at 28th (26.5 pts). So what’s the difference? Turnovers, mostly. The Browns are an opportunistic defense who get a ton of interceptions. The Bengals have struggled all year with their running game and have been forced to throw a lot. Fortunately for the Browns, the Bengals have thrown the 4th most interceptions this season while the Browns have picked off the 4th most passes in the NFL. This means there will be opportunities for the Browns to get their hands on some of Carson Palmer’s passes. When they do, the Browns must convert them into TDs and not FGs because you are not going to win a divisional matchup on the road by just kicking a bunch of FGs.
What say, there, fuzzy britches?