Bengals Poised To Take A Bite Out Of The Dawg Pound
By Joe Sorensen
After both teams won last week in a dramatic fashion, the Cincinnati Bengals will head to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday for the first of two games against their in-state rival. Both teams are coming off of wins as the Bengals (2-1) came from behind to beat the Green Bay Packers and the Browns (1-2) came out of nowhere to defeat the Minnesota Vikings in the final minutes.
This rivalry has always been competitive, regardless of each teams’ records. The last eight meetings have all been decided by 10 points or fewer, including a 19-17 Bengals’ win in Cincinnati during the 2010 season. Overall, the Bengals hold a series advantage of 42-37 and have won 13 of the last 17 since the 2004 season. The last time these two met, the Browns ended their 11-game losing streak by beating Cincinnati with then-rookie QB Brandon Weeden throwing for two touchdowns. In the loss, Bengals QB Andy Dalton threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns, but he also had three interceptions. This game showed that no matter where each team is in the standings, the game could go either way.
This time around, both offenses are beginning to reach their full potential. The Bengals head into this game with two running backs – rookie Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis – capable of taking the game over. Dalton is starting to gain a rhythm with several receivers. He hit Marvin Jones for a touchdown last week, the first to a receiver other than A.J. Green. Defensively, the team held Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to a season-low in passing yards (244), but still allowed 30 points. The pass defense is getting better and the run defense (ranked in the top-10 last season) is beginning to fall apart. Packers rookie RB Jonathan Franklin ran for 103 yards against them last week. Luckily, the Browns do not have much of a ground game. (Then again, Franklin wasn’t supposed to see the field much last week either.)
One issue for the Bengals this week is the amount of their secondary players on the injury report. While it may not mean much, three of their four starters in the secondary (CBs Leon Hall and Terrence Newman and S Reggie Nelson) either missed practice or were limited during the week. Going against the new-look passing game of the Browns, the team needs to make sure all of their key players are on the field this Sunday.
Although assumed to be throwing away the season once they traded 2012 first-round draft pick RB Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts, the Browns looked rejuvenated as they shocked the Vikings with their passing attack. QB Brian Hoyer (321 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions), who made just his second career start last week, will start again this week as Weeden continues to heal from an injury. After serving a two-game suspension, WR Josh Gordon (10 catches, 146 yard and a touchdown) made his season debut last week and will help take some pressure off their emerging TE Jordan Cameron (20 catches, 269 yards and four touchdowns), creating a strong 1-2 punch.
Prediction: Bengals 35, Browns 27
The streak of close games will continue this weekend in Cleveland, but the visitors will take the win home with them. Bernard will show why he will be the starting running back by the end of the season as he is more capable of producing the big plays than Green-Ellis. Against the Browns, Dalton will continue to develop connections with his weapons on the outside and start to utilize his inside targets, TEs Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert. The defensive line, led by DT Geno Atkins and DE Michael Johnson, will get another handful of sacks and prove that last year was not a fluke. This quarterback pressure will take the heat off of the secondary and allow them to get healthy before heading into next week’s meeting with the New England Patriots.