KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
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GAME FORUM THREAD: OBR Football
TV: CBS (Bill Macatee, Rich Gannon)
PREDICTION: Bengals 24-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Browns want to spar for three quarters to stay close enough to land a roundhouse in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Bengals need their third-down offense (32 percent) and red-zone efficiency (23rd in the NFL) to improve soon. The passing game has been far from explosive; Cincinnati's offense ranks 28th with 4.5 yards per play. The Bengals' defense has managed only two sacks but downfield coverage has been strong. QB Jake Delhomme (ankle) could return for Cleveland, but he'll have to be guarded against the Bengals' dare-you-to group of press-cover cornerbacks. RB Peyton Hillis, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, also leads the Browns with 14 catches.
FAST FACTS: The Bengals are 5-2 at Cleveland under Marvin Lewis. ... The Browns' three losses this season have been by a combined 12 points. ... Cleveland LB Marcus Benard has at least a share of a QB sack in four straight games. ... Browns RB Peyton Hillis is ninth in the NFL in rushing. ... The Bengals have just one pass play of 40 yards or more.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Even though the Browns are 0-3, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is fully aware of how a winless Cleveland team can cause Cincinnati fits.
The Browns nearly did it last year before the Bengals pulled out a 23-20 overtime win. In that game, Jerome Harrison ran for 121 yards.
While Harrison might get some carries on Sunday, the bigger threat is Peyton Hillis, who ran for 144 against Baltimore last week. Said Zimmer of Hillis: "He played good all preseason long. He carries his pads in front of his knees, has good feet and is a positive yards guys. He's hard to bring down."
With Jake Delhomme practicing for Cleveland on Thursday, the Bengals have had to prepare for two quarterbacks this week. Delhomme started the opener before suffering a high ankle sprain, and Seneca Wallace has started the last two.
Even though Wallace is more of a scrambling passer and based in the West Coast system, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer hasn't seen the Browns offense change much depending on who is under center.
"They had success running the ball so I would expect them to do what they've done," Zimmer said. "He (Wallace) gets out of the pocket a lot faster than Delhomme while Delhomme hangs around in the pocket a little bit more."
Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme practiced Thursday and Friday and could start Sunday if his injured right ankle responds well on Saturday. It was the first time the 12-year veteran has practiced since spraining his right ankle in the season opener Sept. 12.
Delhomme has missed the past two games, and the Bengals have been forced to prepare for him and much more mobile backup Seneca Wallace.
Coach Eric Mangini said Delhomme could still be the starter, backup or No. 3 quarterback on Sunday, depending on how his ankle feels Saturday.
"It's just really how he does today, how it responds tomorrow and then we do have another 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday to see what it's like. I don't know what the combination will be just because it's only day two of him actually working on the field."
Mangini said he'll likely decide on the starter Saturday night to give whoever it is time to prepare mentally.
Mangini admitted Delhomme looked rusty in his first day back at practice Thursday, but wouldn't hesitate to put him back in the starting lineup if healthy.
"His overall knowledge is really solid and he didn't miss a beat in terms of his preparation," Mangini said. "He's got a pretty consistent routine that he has developed over years so that's stayed the same while he's been off the field."
"I've been preparing (mentally) for the last three weeks the same way as I always do when I play," Delhomme said. "That hasn't changed. We'll leave it up to the coaches. I'll have a decent idea after (Thursday). That's where we are, but it's getting better."
The Browns are 0-3 and already three games behind the Steelers in the AFC North. After playing the Bengals on Sunday they host Atlanta on Oct. 10 then play in Pittsburgh and in New Orleans before the bye.
Delhomme says it is too early to give up hope. He recalled the Panthers' 2004 season the year after Carolina went to the Super Bowl. The Panthers started 1-7 and then won six of their last eight games. They were 11-5 and back in the playoffs in 2005.
"If we would get one or two in a row John (Panthers coach John Fox) would say, 'Alright, this is it. We're going to get another one.' You start rattling off those wins. You keep plugging away and things start happening. You just go with it. You do everything you can for that week. We're in a week to week business. We all know how this is."
The Browns did not score in the opener after Delhomme was injured while trying to side-step the Tampa Bay pass rush late in the first half. Delhomme threw an interception on the play. It turned out to be the turning point of the 17-14 loss. The Browns did not score after Delhomme was injured. He continued to play despite the injury.
"I knew something was bothering me, but in the course of the game adrenalin is flowing," Delhomme said.
Wallace is having a better season statistically. He is 34 of 55 for 370 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating is 86.2.
Delhomme was 20 of 37 for 227 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the only game he played. His passer rating is 59.2.
"It's not simply comparing them," Mangini said. "Jake does a lot of things really well. Seneca does a lot of things really well. In looking at what they both do well, I felt Jake should be the starter.
"Jake has a great command of the offense. He has a great presence. He gets us into good plays and he gets us out of plays that aren't very good."
--RB Cedric Benson had full participation on Thursday after missing Wednesday due to a knee injury. All indications are he will start on Sunday.
--DE Antwan Odom was limited due to a wrist injury and could possibly miss his second straight game.
--CB Adam Jones, who missed last week's game due to a shoulder injury, was upgraded to full participation on Thursday and should play.
--DE Jonathan Fanene missed his eighth practice due to a hamstring injury. All indications are he will miss his third game on Sunday.
--K Mike Nugent was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month after making all eight of his field goal attempts in the first three games.
--DL Shaun Rogers (ankle, hip) did not practice again. He did not practice last week and missed the game in Baltimore.
--RT John St. Clair is still out with an ankle injury. He was hurt in the first quarter in Baltimore and did not return.
--LB Jason Trusnik missed practice with a head injury.
--FB Lawrence Vickers practiced on a limited basis. He was out with a groin injury on Wednesday.
--RB Jerome Harrison is still limited with a thigh injury. The injury kept him out in Baltimore.