WHERE: Paul Brown Stadium
WHEN: Sunday, 1:00 ET
SERIES: 70th meeting. Bengals lead series, 35-34
LAST MEETING: Bengals won, 19-14, at Paul Brown Stadium on 12/23/07.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Cleveland QB Derek Anderson kept his starting job for at least one more week because he's not solely responsible for the woes of a Browns offense that ranks 30th in rushing, 31st in passing and dead last overall. The offensive line has been banged up and Edwards has struggled with drops, but the Browns could get a big boost if WR Donte Stallworth is able to play for the first time this season as Syndric Steptoe simply hasn't been a factor in his place. ... Coach Marvin Lewis asked fans to show up and be loud Sunday as the Bengals want to get off to a quick start and force the Browns to play catch-up. QB Carson Palmer was sacked six times last weekend, but did throw for 286 yards and the Browns have a pair of vulnerable young cover men in CBs Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald. The Browns don't boast much of a pass rush, so Palmer should have ample time to survey his options.
KEY INJURIES: Browns: Stallworth (quadriceps) isn't 100 percent, but might make his season debut; LG Eric Steinbach (shoulder) is expected to be replaced again by Seth McKinney. Bengals: CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle) did not practice midweek and could miss his second consecutive game.
FAST FACTS: The Browns are 8-1 since the start of 2007 when RB Jamal Lewis has at least 20 carries. ... Palmer has been sacked nine times through three games, compared to 17 all of last season.
*CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle), who did not play in Week 3 against the Giants, did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. He has been working on the field with strength coaches. *CB Jamar Fletcher, signed Tuesday to a one-year contract, very well could see action Sunday at home against the Browns. Fellow CB David Jones (knee) was limited in practice Thursday.
*TE Ben Utecht, despite the pain in his chest from a Week 2 injury, was limited for a second day in a row at practice after missing all of the week leading up to the Giants game, which he also missed. He said his ability to play against the Browns would be a matter of pain tolerance.
*S Chinedum Ndukwe (groin) practiced fully Thursday. He is likely to make his third start in a row in place of Dexter Jackson at strong safety. Jackson is out again this week with a thumb injury. Ndukwe and Browns backup quarterback Brady Quinn were roommates at Notre Dame and high school teammates in suburban Columbus, Ohio.
*DT John Thornton (knee), who did not practice Wednesday, was elevated to limited practice Thursday. He is expected to be rested during the week this season. He will start Sunday.
*LB Willie McGinest did not practice Thursday because of a hamstring injury. If he does not practice Friday, he is unlikely to play.
*Starting LG Eric Steinbach missed practice again with a shoulder injury. Seth McKinney is working with the first team.
*LB Kamerion Wimbley was limited in practice with a groin injury.
*WR Donte Stallworth is practicing, but coach Romeo Crennel said Stallworth is "rusty" after missing three games with a quadriceps pull.
*DL Shaun Rogers returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with a shoulder injury.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Through three games, Carson Palmer has been sacked nine times. His nose was broken on a sack in the preseason. He had been sacked just 17 times in 2007 while taking every offensive snap. The sacks were a single-season best for a Bengals team. "It's just as much on me as it is anybody else. I need to get rid of the ball in certain situations and do a better job of that, taking away some of the hits from myself," Palmer said. Palmer has the NFL's No. 27 passer rating (63.8), and if he plays Sunday against the Browns the way he had earlier in his career, that rating is sure to improve. In eight career games against the Browns, Palmer is 6-2 (with a 90.3 passer rating). He is 174-for-269 passing (64.7 percent) for a 239.4-yard average, with 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He's also 4-0 at home versus Cleveland, which enters the first installation of the AFC North showdown at 0-3 as well. Last season at Cleveland, Palmer threw for a team-record six touchdowns and tied the NFL's high mark on the season. His 401 passing yards were the most by an AFC player in 2007. He needs another good performance Sunday, not only to erase a winless start but to build on the momentum he gained at the Giants. Palmer posted his two worst single-game passer ratings at Baltimore and Tennessee before rebounding with a 98.9 in Week 3. Palmer was asked earlier this week if he can withstand the physical pounding he has received so far in 2008. "I think I'm built for that," Palmer said. "Being 245 pounds, it gives me a little extra cushion for when those big guys are laying on you. But in no way do I want to get sacked six times. ... I really don't think that will happen again. With the guys we have up front and the corrections we've already made, and some of the things we've done this year, some of that will take away some of the confusion we've had." The Browns have three sacks as a team in three games.
Now that coach Romeo Crennel has decided to start Derek Anderson at quarterback against the Bengals, the Browns are trying to get on with the business of figuring out what can be done to awaken the slumbering offense.
The excuse about missed practice time because of injuries does not wash anymore. Braylon Edwards missed the final three games in preseason with a lacerated heel, Anderson missed the last two in August with a concussion and Jamal Lewis missed the last two preseason games with a hamstring injury. But they have been together since Sept. 1, and all three played in the first three games -- all losses in which the Browns totaled 26 points.
Edwards believes he has hit on the problem. He says players are putting too much pressure on themselves and that they are not having fun. They hope to rekindle the good times Sunday in Cincinnati against the Bengals. Both teams are 0-3.
"I see a team not playing well," Edwards said, speaking of the Browns. "I see linemen not blocking. I see receivers dropping passes. I see quarterbacks missing reads -- we're all off base right now. None of us is taking initiative to pick another guy up. But that's over. We talked about one guy, two guys, 11 guys taking the initiative to make a play to block a guy, to catch a pass that might be behind you, to make a throw to a receiver who might have run a bad route.
"We're pressing. I'm really speaking for myself, but I know it's echoed throughout the locker room. We just have to go out and have fun. Today is the start of a 13-game season. I'm going to practice hard and do what they trust me to do. I'm putting too much pressure on myself and it's not working for me."
Players are rallying behind Anderson. He led the Browns to 10 victories last year and threw 29 touchdown passes. Rather than throw Anderson under the proverbial bus, teammates are taking it upon themselves to play better.
One of the players vocally supporting Anderson is Lewis, who complained after the Baltimore game about getting only 12 carries. Edwards seemed to set the tone for the struggles when he dropped a pass that would have resulted in a sure touchdown against the Cowboys in the opener.
"It's just not on Derek's back," Lewis said. "It's on everybody in this locker room. We have to do what we're coached up to do."
The Browns have just 582 yards of offense through three games – an average of 194 yards a game. Last year they averaged 351 yards a game.
PREDICTION: Bengals, 23-20
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