Browns-Bengals: Greg's Game Preview

Greg Hensley dives into the on and off-field set-up for Sunday's second Battle of Ohio, where two disappointing teams will battle with memories of a vicious (but legal) hit fresh in their minds...

This week's match up represents so much of what is wrong with the game we love and why a franchise like the Patriots continue to field a winner, while the Browns and Bengals struggle.

The Browns are young and improving. They seemed to developing that continuity needed to take this team to the next level. It does not take a lot to pull a team apart and that may have occurred this week.

The Bengals are one of the most talented teams in football. They can simply dominate but a 5-5 record is all they have to show for so much talent. The off the field incidents has killed the defense. While Marvin Lewis should be praised for his belief in giving players second chances, he also must share the blame when those players squander those opportunities.

The Browns removed several team cancers when Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel took charge of this historic franchise but sadly they seem to be growing a new batch of "Me, Me" players.

Questioning the coaching and play calling simply can not be tolerated but it seems to be the growing fashion across the NFL. It was wrong when Kellen Winslow Jr. did it and it was wrong when Braylon Edwards did it, but Braylon broke cardinal rule.

Braylon Edwards made a comment this week that can't be ignored when referring to the hit by Brian Russell on Chad Johnson.

"It was bull ____"

"They always complain when we do anything, when we put our hands on them, or we cut-block, but yet, you have plays like that where Chad Johnson clearly wasn't catching that pass. Leigh Bodden had already intercepted it and Brian just leveled him. And you see it time and time again.

"It's a rough game and we choose to play it, so that comes with the territory but at the same time, protect the players. We're trying to do the same thing that those guys are trying to do."

This wasn't only taking a shot at a teammate but also sounding like a receiver that is afraid of being hit. Maybe there is a reason behind all the drops, when asked to go across the middle.

When the Browns and Bengals are sitting at home watching the Super Bowl, I hope they understand why they are watching instead of participating.

Bengals Offense

While the Browns have contained Chad Johnson, running back Rudi Johnson has dominated the Browns of late. In the past 4 games against the Browns, Rudi has scored 6 touchdowns and averaged over 160 yards per game.

Rudi is a very deceptive back. He doesn't look like he is running hard until he runs you over. He doesn't look like he is running fast until he runs by you. Rudi is also very deceptive with his power and balance. He has that ability to take the hit, keep his feet moving and slowly slip the tackle. He will be extremely difficult to stop on Sunday.

Quarterback Carson Palmer has struggled for the better part of the 2006 season. Recovering from a shattered knee would have been tough enough, but the injuries to the offensive line have simply been devastating to this offense. Anytime you lose players the caliber of left tackle Levi Jones and center Rich Braham, it takes a lot of time for the new players to develop that chemistry. Levi Jones is questionable for Sunday's game.

Carson is on fire as of late. In his last 5 games he has thrown for over 1400 yards, 11 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. His timing with Chad Johnson is at an all time high and with the emergence of Chris Henry, this offense can hang with anyone.

The key in slowing Palmer is overloading to his right and forcing him to throw across his body. He is excellent throwing the deep ball to either side but he has a tendency to float the ball to his left on the short to mid range passes.

Bengals Defense

The Bengals defense has to be one of the most disappointing units in all of football. They are giving up passing yards at a record pace and the only reason their run defense isn't at the bottom is because teams are scoring so quickly going over the top.

The front four for the Bengals has yet to show the consistency that was expected. Robert Gathers and Justin Smith are two man wrecking crew when asked to rush the passer but as a group the front 4 isn't getting enough consistent pressure on the quarterback. This is in large part due to the secondary's inability to give them time to get to the quarterback.

The interior of this line has thus far simply been very disappointing. Tackle Sam Adams is still capable of holding down the middle but he wears down to quickly. When Sam leaves the game, the interior gives up rushing yards at an unbelievable pace.

The loss of linebackers David Pollack and Odell Thurman was too much for the defense. While the remaining linebackers give tremendous effort, the talent simply isn't there when it comes to blitzing as well as making plays in the secondary.

The Bengals secondary are a group of true risk takers. They make their living at jumping the route but so far the plays that they made last year are not there this year. They are still taking chances and that is why they are the worst pass defense in the league.


Browns Offense

The Browns offense has been blessed with tremendous field position all year long but has failed to capitalize. The talent is there but putting it all together is a work in progress. Whether it's a missed block, poor throw, dropping a pass, hitting the wrong hole or picking up the penalty at the worst time, the offense has found a way to kill the best of opportunities.

Charlie Frye has made tremendous strides over the last two weeks. It isn't that he is making great plays but that he is avoiding making bad plays, except for the fumbles. Charlie's steady progress is a sign of hope and facing a Bengals defense that is giving up record passing yards could be just what this young quarterback needs to get his confidence back.

In order for that to happen Charlie must avoid telegraphing the pass. If he is locking onto a receiver, you can bet the defensive back will be locked onto the ball. Charlie should look off the intended target, use the pump fake to allow the receiver some separation and test this defense at every opportunity. Look for Dennis Northcutt to have a big day receiving the ball. Rookie receiver Travis Wilson may get his first opportunity this week to show what he brings to the table.

The Browns line is also showing improvement but when they are bad they are really bad. The key match up will be the Browns tackles vs. the Bengals defensive ends. They must drive the ends off the line when asked to run block. This will slow the Bengals pass rush. If they are able to just come at the quarterback without fearing the run, it will be a long day for the quarterback.

Running back Jason Wright may not be a pro bowl running back but he was a spark last week against the Steelers. He showed a very good initial burst and that will be needed when facing the Bengals. Defensive tackle Sam Adams is a force but if you can make him chase early in the game, he will be out of the game in the 4th quarter.

The Browns best weapon on offense is Kellen Winslow. Kellen will be double teamed all day and that should open up opportunities for the remaining Browns receivers. Anytime Kellen is matched up one on one expect the ball to come his way. His size and strength should be huge against the Bengals secondary.

Browns Defense

The Browns defense has performed admirably all year but when they allow long drives, they don't seem to be able to recover. This is a talented group but its lack of depth is one of the reasons, they haven't put together 4 quarters of football all year. They will tire out especially when the offense is going three and out. The Bengals used the hurry up offense to keep the defense from substituting in the previous match up and will likely do the same Sunday.

The Bengals offense puts the Browns in a catch 22. Load up against the run and you leave yourself vulnerable to the big play ability of Henry, Johnson and Houshmanzadeh. Bring in the extra defensive backs and they pound it out with Rudi Johnson.

This situation calls for the Browns to take chances and run blitz on the way to the quarterback. This will put a great deal of pressure on the secondary to slow the receivers at the line of scrimmage. It could also lead to another big game by Andra Davis. Andra has always had a knack for making the pick when facing Carson Palmer and if can sell the blitz and drop into the passing lane, he will get another opportunity this week.

The key for the defense will be the safety play. They will be asked to cover one on one, support the run and quickly react when in zone coverage. If they can punish the receivers early, it will go a long way in slowing down the potent Bengals offense.

Kamerion Wimbley will be coming at the quarterback on virtually every play. With Levi Jones recovering from an injury, it will be a great time to test that recovery. If Levi doesn't play, it will be a great time to test the rookie left tackle Andrew Whitworth.


The Browns and Bengals have faced off 66 times and share a 33-33 record. This should be another great game to watch as these two always seem to bring out the best in each other.

Expect a tremendous amount of hard hits and big plays. The team that strikes first will have a decisive advantage. An early lead will control what the other team is able to do offensively.

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