Browns-Bengals: Don's Game Preview

Four keys to the Browns getting on the winning track against a struggling Carson Palmer and the Bengals.

As bad as last year's 1-11 start was for the Cleveland Browns — and it was bad — the Browns almost won in week four. The Cincinnati Bengals were in town and needed overtime to beat the Browns 23-20.

A year later, the Bengals arrive in Cleveland again in week four with new receivers, an ever-improving defense and a eight-game AFC North winning streak that netted Cincinnati a conference title last season. Yet for all the positives, there is trouble brewing.

Carson Palmer has under-performed. The team's newest wide receiver, Terrell Owens, is starting to grumble after blaming the offensive line for Palmer's troubles. Wait, they have Adam "Pacman" Jones on their defense? Still, after a season-opening loss to New England 38-24, Cincinnati has won its last two games over Baltimore 15-10 and Carolina 20-7.

Palmer admitted earlier this week the Browns always play them tough and last year's game at Cleveland Browns Stadium corroborated those comments.

The Browns have led in each of their first three games, yet snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Can the Browns win Sunday? Of course. Here are some key areas to look for as the Browns hope to avoid another winless month.

Palmer's Prowess: Or lack thereof. In the offseason, Cincinnati surrounded Palmer with numerous weapons including Owens and rookie wide out Jordan Shipley and rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham.

In three games, Palmer has completed 56.6 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He's just off.

Last Sunday, the Browns were facing another "just off" quarterback in Joe Flacco. On the Ravens' first series Browns rookie safety T. J. Ward dropped a would-be pick six. Who knows how early problems would have affected Flacco, but it probably would have been in the Browns' favor.

Same goes for Sunday. They need to rattle Palmer early with pressure or a turnover and let that doubt creep into his head.

Embrace Your Identity: The Browns admitted this week they re-found their identity — running the football.

"I think if we can successfully kind of grind the ball through four quarters, give our defense a chance to rest and open up some things in the passing game, I think we are going to have more successes than failures," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said.

The Browns are confident in their ability to run the ball after collecting 173 yards against the Ravens last Sunday led by Peyton Hillis' 144 yards on 22 carries.

Whether it's Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace starting at quarterback, the Browns should be able to run the ball against the Bengals, who are allowing an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Also, Cleveland should have its full complement of running backs in Hillis, Jerome Harrison and James Davis.

Defend The Pass: You think Anquan Boldin was difficult? Try Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocino and a few good-looking rookies in Shipley and Gresham.

Bengals' running back Cedric Benson, like Palmer, has been off this season. Benson has 202 yards on 65 carries (3.1 yards per carry). Cincinnati will be licking its chops to throw the ball after the Browns struggles last Sunday.

Linebacker Marcus Benard should be back in the lineup. In two games, Benard provided the Browns a pass rush (2.5 sacks), something Flacco didn't see at all last Sunday.

Defending the pass Sunday begins with pressuring the quarterback coupled with a bounce-back performance by Eric Wright, who was toasted for three Boldin touchdowns last Sunday.

One Down, One To Go: For the first time in four preseason games and two regular season games, the Browns did not have a turnover. A good first step, unfortunately, the Browns committed eight penalties for 60 yards.

In three games, the Browns have 22 penalties for 185 yards

"The mistakes that are made in terms of penalties remain a problem and needs to be fixed, but that's a starting point," coach Eric Mangini said. "I was really happy with our offense (last Sunday) in terms of not having any turnovers. I think that's the starting point there."

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