Today’s the biggest game the Browns have played in quite some time. With Cincinnati’s bye next week, a win today would setup the Browns needing a win over the Steelers to pull to even with the Bengals in the AFC North race. First things first, however, so let’s talk about how the Browns can pull off the season sweep against the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium this afternoon.
1. Weather or Not
The weather this afternoon in Cincinnati is supposed to be brutal with high winds and possible thunderstorms. Andy Dalton struggled in the Baltimore wind last week in an overtime loss. The Browns have nearly all of their effective offense come via the passing game. Because of this and the fact that both of these squads have strong defenses, you should expect another low-scoring affair, similar to the 17-6 Browns win in Cleveland. Because the high winds could effect passing, kicking, and punting, field position will be at a premium.
So, winning the turnover battle is critical. If the Browns can turn the field position around and get their defense or special teams to set them up with a short field, it could make all the difference. Jason Campbell’s greatest skill thus far has been avoiding turnovers, and he’ll need to keep that rolling today.
2. Out of the Backfield
When we’re talking backfield receptions, I’m talking about Chris Ogbonnaya vs. Gio Bernard. Both backs have a knack for making catches out of the backfield. Ogbonnaya’s had key recpetions late in two of the Browns’ four wins, including the first Cincy game where he had 5 for 21 yards and a touchdown. In all, he had 10 touches for 48 yards. As for Bernard, he’s only gotten better since the Browns faced him in Week 4. In that first matchup, he had 6 catches for 38 yards (16 total touches for 75 yards). Whoever prevents the screen pass or toss out to the flat score may swing the game their way.
3. Defensive Tenacity
The Browns are where they are because of their aggressive defense. I’m most concerned about Bernard out of the backfield, but the Bengals also have two tight ends that can exploit our linebacker coverage at times in Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert. Each of them have 300+ receiving yards and 30+ receptions, thought they each have only one TD. I know Joe Haden can hold his own against A.J. Green (who had 7 for 51 yards in their last matchup), and Buster Skrine has been improving each and every week, but it will be how the Browns cover the middle of the field in the short-to-intermediate passing game that I’m really looking at as a key.
The Browns’ safeties have been heralded for their run-stopping ability. T.J. Ward leads the league in run stops for safeties with 20 (five more than any other safety), and Ray Horton called Tashaun Gipson his defensive MVP of the season this week for his lack of mental mistakes and his better-than-expected tackling. Gipson had his best statistical showing against these Bengals, according to Pro Football Focus, with 4 stops (constituting an offensive failure) and graded out with a +1.6 rating with most of that attributed to his pass coverage.
The Browns don’t blitz their safeties very often, but when they do, it’s pretty effective. They’re 4-for-10 in terms of generating “pressure” on a safety blitz (defined as a sack, hit, or hurry).