It is simple and effective to the point of becoming cliché. In order to win football games teams need to run the ball and stop the run. Of course, the game can and is more complex, but at its essence, accomplish those two goals and the chance at victory is great.
The Browns got a victory last Sunday against Jacksonville by achieving those two goals. It was the first time this season the Browns had a running back rush for more than 100 yards while holding the opposing team's feature back to less than 100.
Aiding in the Browns victory was Jacksonville's one-dimensional offense. This Sunday, the Browns do not have that luxury. While the Bengals also feature a rookie quarterback, Cincinnati's offense is far from a one trick pony.
Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has improved since his first career start Sept. 11 at Cleveland Browns Stadium. This season, Dalton has completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 2,239 yards with 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
"I thought he was pretty good coming into that first game," Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said on Nov. 23. "He's certainly more experienced. It seems to me this guy has been a good player throughout his whole career. He's got 10 games under his belt and he's got good experience in the NFL now. He's really doing a very good job with their offense."
Ah, the opener. It is hard to forget that game. The Browns led 14-13 entering the fourth quarter until the Bengals took the lead with 4:28 remaining on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Bruce Gradkowski to A.J. Green on third and long. The play caught the Browns defense napping and it cost them a chance at victory.
In conjunction with Dalton, Green has also emerged. He has quickly established himself as the Bengals' No. 1 wide receiver. In nine games, Green has 635 yards and six touchdowns receiving on 41 catches. He missed last Sunday's game after hyperextending his knee on Nov. 13. His status for Sunday is "wait-and-see" according to head coach Marvin Lewis.
Aside from the big play to Green, the one big difference in the first meeting was the 121 yards rushing by Cedric Benson. Meanwhile, Peyton Hillis led the Browns ground game with 57 yards rushing on 17 carries. Unable to establish the run and unable to stop the run led to the Browns' inability to close out the game.
Cincinnati enters Sunday's game losers of two consecutive to Pittsburgh 24-17 on Nov. 13 and Baltimore 31-24 on Nov. 20.
The Browns are coming off that win over the Jaguars, which was arguably Cleveland's best performance. Offensively, the Browns scored two — count ‘em — two touchdowns.
In his last two games, Browns quarterback Colt McCoy is 37-for-51 passing for 417 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"I think they're getting more and more comfortable with each other, the receivers," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said on Nov. 21. "It's important the timing and where they are going to be, getting used to seeing where they are going to be and being able to make those throws. I think the practices have been good. The guys that are in the game are being able to practice, so they get used to working together, which was good last week. The practices were generally efficient, so you like to think that's going to help Sunday's performance."
Greg Little has emerged as McCoy's top target. This season, Little has 42 catches for 438 yards and each week is showing improvement. In the first meeting with Cincinnati, he caught one ball for 12 yards.
On the ground, the Browns have turned to Chris Ogbannaya. Last week, he had 115 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Hillis was hurt and he'll be out again this week. Montario Hardesty has missed the last two games. He has been limited in practice this week, but his status for Sunday is up-in-the-air. That may mean even more carries for Ogbannaya.
"Chris has been very productive," Shurmur said. "He's done things for our team that will warrant him playing, at least some, when our other guys come back. We'll just see how it goes when they come back. I'm not concerned about that. That's a good problem to have, when you have a line of guys that you feel good about."
Cincinnati is better than expected when the season started, but the Browns have a chance in this game by establishing Ogbannaya and shutting down Benson.
It doesn't sound so cliché when you add names.
If those things happen, a second-consecutive win could be in store.