The Browns know the blueprint for beating the Bengals. For the first time in a long while, they also have the personnel to execute that game plan. It could mean the first sweep of the Bengals for the Browns since 2002.
The Bengals defense ranks sixth in the NFL giving up 18.6 points per game. They are seventh against the pass at 209.4 yards per game allowed and ninth against the rush at 102 yards a game. The bottom line is that they are a very good defense. They are also missing some players. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall are out for the season. Linebacker Ray Maualuga’s status is up in the air with a knee injury. All three are starters for the Bengals and all three are impact players.
Offensively, the Browns beat Cincinnati in week four by spreading the ball around to seven different receivers, but Jordan Cameron had the biggest contribution. Cameron caught ten passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals will obviously try to switch things up against Cameron this week and keep him from having another big game. Josh Gordon caught four passes for 74 yards in the first meeting. Greg Little was held without a catch.
The Browns won the game on the strength of their defense. They allowed just a pair of field goals en route to a 17-6 win. They did it by bottling up the Bengals rushing game, allowing only 63 yards and keeping wide receiver A.J. Green in check. Green finished the game with seven catches, but only gained 51 yards on those receptions.
Green has been on quite a run of late. He has had over 100 yards receiving in five straight games, grabbing 34 passes for 652 yards and 3 touchdowns in that stretch. He isn’t the only wide receiver having a good run in Cincy though. Marvin Jones, a non-factor the first time the Browns and Bengals played has 437 yards and seven touchdowns on the season.
Cincinnati also has a pair of tight ends that have impressive numbers when combined. Rookie Tyler Eifert and fourth year man Jermaine Gresham have combined for 683 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Another rookie, running back Giovani Bernard is dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield as well. He has three touchdown receptions and four plays of 20 yards or more catching the ball out of the backfield.
Given Cleveland’s struggles with backs in the passing game, look for the Bengals to use Bernard quite a bit, despite playing with tender ribs. The Browns will have to come up with a plan against Bernard.
You have to be encouraged with Cleveland’s chances defensively. In the first match-up, Joe Haden proved to be one of the few corners that you can put on Green in single coverage and trust him to keep Green from beating you. The area where I believe the Browns have jumped forward and may have the edge on Cincinnati is with the second cornerback spot.
To beat the Bengals, Haden will have to be on the top of his game against Green. You would expect that to be the case. The Browns will have to contain the running game of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard. They have been handling the running game for the majority of the season, and there is no reason to expect any different this week.
Buster Skrine is the difference maker to me. Here’s a stat for you. Did you know that Buster Skrine is tied for third in the league with 15 passes defensed (according to NFL.com)? Part of the reason for that is your second stat of the week. No cornerback in the NFL has been thrown at more times than Buster Skrine this season. Pro Football Focus calculates that Skrine has been thrown at 79 times this season. He has allowed 42 receptions, and only three of those have been for touchdowns.
Buster has improved this season. He is capable of taking away the second best wide receiver the Bengals have. That’s the edge Cleveland needs to get a win in Cincinnati. The front seven can help by getting pressure on Andy Dalton. In the first match-up Dalton was sacked twice, but only hit two other times. Lately, the Browns have been getting after the quarterback. The team has registered eleven sacks in their last two games.
It isn’t a slam dunk by any stretch, but this game is there for the taking. If the Browns can pull off the win on the road, things will get really interesting.