KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Beuerlein
SERIES: 62nd meeting. The Cleveland Browns lead the "Battle of Ohio" series 32-29. The Browns are 19-11 as the home team. The Bengals have won 3 of 5 in Cleveland Browns Stadium since the return of the expansion Browns in 1999.
*2004 rankings: Bengals: offense 21st (15th rush, 19th pass); defense
21st (32nd rush, 7th pass). Browns: offense 30th (17th rush, 30th pass); defense
22nd (17th rush, 24th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals spent much of their bye week addressing their porous run defense. They'll know early if they found a solution because the Browns will bring a combination of RBs William Green and Lee Suggs. Cleveland hasn't been consistent on the ground, which is part of the reason the Browns are averaging a mere three third-down conversions per game. Cleveland has yet to score an offensive touchdown in the first half, so the Bengals, who have held a lead for just 38:03 this season, want to get out of the gates quickly. QB Carson Palmer is averaging 38.5 pass attempts per game, but is expected to be without WR Peter Warrick again, which would make coming from behind that much more difficult.
FAST FACTS: Bengals: WR Chad Johnson's 29 receptions is just one fewer than he had through four games last season. ... RB Kenny Watson has eight third-down receptions. Browns: Have converted just 15 of 63 third down situations (23.8 percent). ... K Phil Dawson has tied a career high with 21 consecutive field goals made. ... Trying to start 3-0 at home for the first time since 1973.
PREDICTION: Browns 19-16
- WR Peter Warrick was downgraded to out Thursday for the game Sunday. His
shin injury will cause him to be inactive against the Browns for the second
game in a row.
- C Rich Braham was upgraded to probable and has been sharing practice
repetitions with Jerry Fontenot. "Seems to be getting better every day,"
Braham said of his knee. "It doesn't hurt now sitting on a chair watching TV."
Braham also said he doesn't know who would start.
- DL Carl Powell, who injured his knee against Miami, remained questionable
Thursday but did not practice.
- WR Chad Johnson's gift of Pepto-Bismol to four Browns defensive backs
received a lot of national attention on Thursday, most responses positive for
the good-natured cleverness. Johnson hoped to help snap the Bengals' offense
out of what he said was a slump. "I did something not only to challenge myself
but also the team," Johnson said Thursday. The Bengals have scored just two
offensive touchdowns in the past three games.
- WR Jamall Broussard was signed off the Bengals practice squad to the Carolina Panthers 53-man roster on Thursday. Broussard, who played at San Jose State, had eight receptions for 58 yards and five punt returns for 34 yards in the preseason.
- WR Richard Alston was waived from the active squad and signed to the
- LB Mason Unck was signed to the active roster. The significance of the
move is LB Barry Sanders is out indefinitely with a groin injury. Sanders
played on punt and kick coverage teams. Unck is replacing him.
- Two of QB Jeff Garcia's three best games statistically as a 49ers
quarterback were against the Bengals. He threw five touchdown passes and only
one interception during two starts against Cincinnati. He passed for a
career-high 437 yards against them Dec. 12, 1999 and 344 yards, his third best
ever, on Dec. 14, 2003.
- DT Gerard Warren practiced Wednesday and Thursday with no setbacks from
his strained pectoral muscle. Coach Butch Davis said how much playing time
Warren gets will be determined as the game goes along Sunday.
- RT Ryan Tucker said he wanted to practice before declaring himself ready to play. He expects to start after practicing well Wednesday and Thursday. He missed three games with a torn right quad.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Bengals are 0-2 against AFC North rivals this season. They have lost the last four in a row to division foes. The Bengals play at Cleveland on Sunday.
One of the reasons for the slump against the North is the Bengals' inability to even slow down the other team's rush offense.
The run-oriented offenses played in the AFC North mandate that a defense stop the run. In losing their last two games to division opponents, the Bengals allowed 254 rushing yards to the Ravens and 165 to the Steelers. And including the season finale in 2003 against the Browns, the Bengals have allowed an average of 227.7 rushing yards a game in the last three against division opponents.
"We have running backs like Duce Staley, Jamal Lewis and Lee Suggs," Bengals safety Kim Herring said. "We're going to get that every week. Why not? Until we stop it, we should be surprised if we don't see it."
Browns tailback Lee Suggs had 186 yards against the Bengals in the 2003 season final. Jamal Lewis also ran for 186 yards and Staley 123 individually against the Bengals. William Green, the other Browns' running back, ran for 96 yards in a 2002 games against the Bengals.
The Browns had 264 rushing yards in the 22-14 victory that knocked the Bengals from playoff contention in Week 17 of 2003.
The woes against the run from the last four games of 2003 have stretched into the first four games of 2004. The Bengals are last in the NFL against the run (165.9 yards).
"They've got to feel like they've got to try to run the football," Bengals
coach Marvin Lewis said of the Browns. "Everybody's going to try to run the
football at us until we prove that we can stop it play after play, slow it
The Browns are going to resist the urge to blitz against the Bengals Sunday.
Bengals first-year quarterback Carson Palmer said he has been blitzed often in Cincinnati's first four games. That is not the Browns' style. Last week they faced rookie Ben Roethlisberger and blitzed him only four times.
"We haven't been a blitz team," coach Butch Davis said. "We blitzed 35-40 percent of the time when I was in Dallas. We haven't evolved into that here yet, but we may as the season progresses. Right now it is not the forte of our defense.
"If you blitz, you're putting everybody on islands by themselves. What are the matchups? Can they win? If you think they can win, blitz them 'til their nose bleeds."
Bengals receiver Chad Johnson lines up on the left side, which means he will be matched with Daylon McCutcheon. Anthony Henry would be matched with T.J. Housmandzadeh.
Defensive tackle Orpheus Roye says the front four should be able to put enough pressure on Palmer without blitzing. The line is getting a boost this week with the return of defensive tackle Gerard Warren.
"We have to go out there and execute," Roye said. "When we get the chance, we have to put pressure on the quarterback. We have a good front four. Blitzing is like a chess match. It depends on down and distance."
The Browns have six sacks through five games. They have 38 pressures and 15 quarterback hits. None of the quarterback hits and only one of the 38 pressures - safety Chris Crocker has it - is by a defensive back. Not a single linebacker as a sack, a hit or even a pressure.
Palmer will keep the defensive backs running if he follows the pattern of the last three Cincinnati games. He threw 27 passes in the opener against the Jets, 38 against the Dolphins in the second game, 52 against the Ravens in the third game and 37 against the Steelers Oct. 3. The Bengals had their bye last week.