The Battle of Ohio heats up once again Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Another battle took place this week as Browns and Bengals fans came out to support their perspective rookie of the week honorees. Browns quarterback Charlie Frye narrowly edged out Bengals linebacker Odell Thurman by only 187 votes. It did not look good for Charlie earlier in the week as Odell Thurman was off to a huge lead but Browns fans came out in full force. Congratulations to Charlie Frye and to the fans that showed why Browns fans are truly the best.
The Bengals can lock down the divisional title with a win this week combined with a Steelers loss to the Bears. This game is equally important to the Browns as they attempt to gain their first win within the division. This will give the Browns confidence that they can beat the upper echelon of teams. With only four games remaining, it is one of few remaining chances for borderline players to show the Romeo and Phil that they are worthy of a roster spot.
The Bengals offense is playing at level that strikes fear in opposing defenses. When you talk about great offense, it is all about rhythm and timing. The Bengals have that rhythm and that timing. They can pound the ball and wear down opposing defenses. They can pick apart the defense with a patient, short yardage, timing attack. They will then use that run and short pass to set up the deep strike. This is enough to make any defense worry but now they have added in a bit of a "hurry up" style of offense to their arsenal.
The Bengals offensive line is a prime reason for this team's success. This group has remained intact for 2 seasons and you just cannot overestimate the value of that kind of continuity. They open lanes in the running game and they keep Carson Palmer upright.
The offensive line will look to use the same strategy that was so successful in the first meeting. Single up on nose tackle Jason Fisk with center Rich Braham and drive him into the laps of the interior linebackers. The guards fanned out and sealed DE's Roye and McKinley to the outside. This gave Rudi Johnson not one but two huge running lanes to choose from. Rudi took advantage and finished the day with 126 yards on 26 carries. If Jason Fisk struggles, look for J'Vonne Parker to get a shot. Parker is fresh off the practice squad due to Ethan Kelly going on injured reserve. He does not possess the experience of Fisk but a fresh body combined with heart and desire can go a very long way.
Many questioned the drafting of Chris Perry when the Bengals already had Rudi Johnson but the move is making Marvin Lewis look like a genius. Rudi is a tough hardnosed runner that always seems to make positive yards when he should have been stopped for a loss. He just bangs away between the tackles wearing down defenses. He is the "tough guy" that the Bengals need to define their identity as a complete offense.
Chris Perry is one of the most underrated players in football. He gives them a balanced running attack with his ability to bounce it outside and use his speed to become that big play threat in the running game. He is also one of the best backs receiving the ball in the NFL. Perry has almost 600 yards combined in rushing and receiving, in just 12 games. When you can get that kind of production out of your backup, things are going extremely well for that offense.
Carson Palmer has reached that elite level as a quarterback. He is simply dominating opposing defenses as a complete quarterback. It is timing with the receivers, with those short crossing patterns, that force teams into making mistakes deep. Palmer sets this up when he uses that shoulder fake to draw in the defensive backs and then hurls the ball into the end zone. He rolls the shoulder in a throwing motion while he is setting his body up to throw it for the distance. He is also becoming better and better at selling the play action fake. This takes a great deal of pressure off the backs of the offensive line.
Chad Johnson is currently leading the NFL in receptions and receiving yards. He is the favorite weapon of Carson Palmer and while his brash attitude takes away from his talent, the talent remains undeniable. TJ Houshmandzadeh and rookie Chris Henry are simply tearing up the league, as the second and third option in this offense. TJ is becoming that clutch "go to guy" on third down plays. Chris Henry is providing Palmer that big receiving threat that can simply go up and get the ball. Most of his receptions are coming from those passes where only Henry can get it.
The Bengals front four are the weakest unit on this team. Justin Smith is having a very good year but the other three have been consistently driven backwards all year. This is especially true with the interior of this line. The Browns will look to exploit this interior and force the Bengals linebackers to cheat towards the line. In the first meeting, Frisman Jackson had a huge game because of that cheating. When Odell Thurman vacated the middle, Jackson would run his route into the same exact spot that Thurman vacated.
The linebackers are disruptors. They are a hard-hitting physical group that has the speed to attack and then recover into the passing lanes. That disruption is one of the reasons that this defense is first in turnovers. They get their helmet on the ball forcing the fumble and get their hands in the air deflecting passes. They are however vulnerable to the play action and screen, by exploiting their aggressive nature.
Deltha O'Neal who leads the league in interceptions with eight leads the Bengals secondary. This is a group of risk takers. Their coverage is decent but extremely vulnerable especially when you throw over the top but anytime you throw short or hang the ball up, they are there to make the pick. If Charlie Frye has that pump fake in his arsenal, Sunday would be a great time to use it.
The Bengals kick off coverage has given up 622 yards on just 23 returns over the last five games. The Browns will look to exploit this weakness. They have one of the better kickers in the game but their coverage is very suspect. If the Browns wedge can hold up during that first wave, Josh Cribbs could go the distance.
Their kickoff returns have kept the Bengals in short field position all year. Tab Perry is averaging 26 yards with over 1100 return yards for the season. Perry is deceptively quick. He does not look fast doing anything but it is that quick stop and change of direction that makes him such a threat.
Neither the Browns nor Bengals have anything to brag about in the punting
game. Bengals Kyle Larson has struggled keeping the ball inside the 20 and the
Browns Kyle Richardson is the most inconsistent punter in the NFL.
The Browns Battle Plan
Offensively the Browns will look to exploit the right side of the Bengals defensive line. With Justin Smith playing through injuries and Bryan Robinson out for the game, look for Cosey Coleman and Ryan Tucker to dominate this game. Coleman and Tucker can overwhelm the undersized Bengals defensive line. The key however will be taking Odell Thurman out of the play. The Browns fullback must engage Thurman on the Bengals side and not in the backfield. First contact is made in the backfield, it is a loss of yardage but when the fullback gets out and into the chest of the opposing inside backer, Reuben Droughns has had major success. Reuben managed 74 yards on just 12 carries during the first meeting, before the Browns completely abandoned the running game.
Last week the blitz came early and often in the second half, yet the Browns refused to make adjustments in their game plan and did not use the screen pass to take advantage of the mass blitz executed by the Jaguars. Charlie Frye took five sacks in the second half, last week and while blame was spread between the offensive line and the quarterback, neither was entirely guilty. There is simply no excuse for not providing a rookie quarterback with escape options such as the running back screen or the quick slant to the slot receiver.
The Bengals will likely use the exact same strategy this week and force the rookie to make the quick decision and the great throw. If the Browns are intent on making the Bengals pay, they have to use the screen. Reuben Droughns is the most patient back in all of football. This is the number one quality for a successful screen pass. Allow the pressure to come and then allow the blockers to get out in front and do their job. This will be a nightmare situation for the undersized Bengals secondary. Charlie will also need to give Antonio Bryant the opportunity for the great play down the sideline. When in single coverage the Bengals secondary cannot stay with Bryant.
The key to stopping Palmer and the Bengals offense is the linebackers. The linebackers must jam the receivers on those short crossing patters. When they come across looking for that quick slant, the linebackers should knock them backwards. This takes away their bread and butter play and forces the deep patterns. The Browns secondary plays so far off the line of scrimmage that the deep pattern is what they want to see. This gives them equal opportunity to find the ball. This will also keep the backers close to the line of scrimmage where they can also play the run.
There is a point where you can see that all things are clicking for a corner and he is reading the play before the snap. Leigh Bodden is emerging as a very good corner and he is making that quick pre-read that we have not seen from any of our corners since the return. Look for Bodden to have a very good day against the leagues best receiver.
The Bengals do not want to get into a physical throwback, AFC Central type of battle but rather a west coast shootout. The Browns can win but they have to play a physical brand of football, both offensively and defensively. The Browns have not been a very good second half team and will need to make it 4 quarters of brutality to take this one from the Bengals.