The Browns have lost 5 consecutive games dating back to last season. The Bengals have never lost to a Romeo Crennel coached Browns team.
Carson Palmer is one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL and may have the best touch on the deep ball of any quarterback in the NFL. Last week, however, his accuracy was somewhat erratic as he allowed the ball to sail high on several attempts. This could simply be the result of playing the Baltimore Ravens and expecting their insane pass rush but it was a topic of concern for Bengals fans this week.
Chris Henry's suspension appears to have slowed the Bengals offense as well. Tab Perry simply doesn't have the hands or the explosiveness of Henry. The Bengals could be looking to add another receiver if the backups do not step it up soon.
They have no issues with Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmanzadeh. TJ is tough as nails and will play through his banged up knee. He is coming off of a great game against the Ravens in which he totaled nine catches. Chad continues to be the game breaker of the offense. He is a prime example of what it takes to be an NFL receiver. He makes his living by being a great route runner. For young receivers out there, take notes of how Chad is getting open and not his end zone celebrations. Chad simply flows through his routes and has that second gear for when he makes his move. The timing between he and Palmer is second to none. Keeping Chad and TJ in check will be a difficult task for the Browns secondary.
Rudi Johnson is one of the most underrated running backs in NFL history. He gets little respect despite the success over the last 3 years. In those 3 years Johnson has amassed 4221 yards rushing and 36 touchdowns. Rudi has had a lot of success against the Browns in their recent meetings. Keeping him in check will be a difficult. Rudi gives the Bengals offense that balance to be successful. He can run inside or outside and forces teams to be honest. The only thing that has stopped Rudi has been the play calling as he can get lost in the shuffle with the talented receivers.
The Bengals offensive line is a bit of a mystery especially with the situation revolving around Levi Jones. Jones replacement Andrew Whitworth has been phenomenal. I loved this young man coming out of LSU for his mean tenacious attitude towards blocking. He will struggle occasionally with the speed rushers but once he gets his hands locked, he looks to bury the defender. With Stacy Andrews lined up beside of Whitworth they have one of the best run blocking left sides in all of football.
The Bengals defense appears to be more aggressive than we have seen. They brought the blitz and shredded the Ravens offensive line. One of the battles to watch will certainly be defensive end Justin Smith going against the Browns rookie left tackle Joe Thomas. Smith will hold his ground well but always seems to make the big play at the right time. He will be looking to get inside the chest of Thomas and drive him into the quarterback with the bulrush. Despite his size, Justin has very strong legs.
The Bengals have made so many investments in the linebacker corps that haven't worked out. That hasn't stopped them for putting together what appears to be a solid unit with size and athleticism led by inside backer Ahmad Brooks. Brooks is the hard hitting enforcer in the middle. He is 260 pounds with the quick burst to get into the backfield. The Browns must look to get someone on Brooks each and every play.
The Bengals secondary is all about opportunity. They have made a career out of running to the ball and either making a play on the ball or hitting the receiver. Rookie Leon Hall seems to fit well in this defense. I wasn't sure on this draft pick but the early indications is that he will be a good one and a great fit for the Bengals system. The Browns must also avoid the other two youngsters in the secondary. Cornerback Jonathon Joseph is all about speed. He can take risks because of that speed. Free Safety Madieu Williams has made tremendous strides and has lost the hesitation that got him into trouble early. With this solid play in the secondary it has allowed the Bengals to blitz from every direction and expect even more on Sunday.
Quarterback Derek Anderson should concentrate on one thing this Sunday and that is setting his feet before he throws. Derek has a cannon arm that can stretch the field but he loses all of his accuracy due to feet that never stop moving. He has "happy feet" and unless a quarterback gets his feet on the ground and steps into his throw he loses his aim. You aim with your front foot and that is impossible when it is going up and down constantly. At the first sign of trouble, the Brady Quinn chants will emerge once again.
The Browns will look to pound the ball 30 times with Jamal Lewis this week. That was the plan last week but after getting down early they were forced to abandon the run. Jamal has had tremendous success against the Bengals and if he gets off to a quick start, it may take the pressure from the back of the quarterback.
The Browns run blocking isn't where it needs to be. That could change with the return of Ryan Tucker and hopefully a healthy return of LeCharles Bentley but for now they have what they have and that is a line that must use their quick feet and skill to shield the defender instead of simply looking to overpower them. The Browns would be better served in using a lot of zone blocking stretch plays. This allows their quick footed linemen to get out into space and create lanes.
One concern when playing the Bengals is their opportunistic secondary. The browns receivers must look to shield the ball. The Browns have huge receivers and they should use that size to their advantage. Find the seams, get the ball and look for the run after the catch. Look for Kellen Winslow to have a huge game this week. If Kellen gets off to an early start it will create opportunities deep down the field for Braylon Edwards.
The key match up for the Browns is Leigh Bodden versus Chad Johnson. Chad and Leigh have had some epic battles and this week should be fun to watch. A major concern, however, will be rookie Eric Wright facing off against TJ Houshmanzadeh. TJ has a knack for selling the short routes and using the double move on the post route to exploit aggressive corners.
The safety tandem of Jones and Pool got off to a horrid start last week. Jones had a decent game but Pool appeared to hesitate on every play. For a free safety to finish a game with zero tackles after giving up on his deep responsibilities over and over should never happen. He must improve or the Browns will be looking for a replacement and that could arrive as soon as Gary Baxter is ready to play.
Up front, the Browns continue to have issues at nose tackle. The nose tackle position made the line look like a big doughnut. The Browns must find a nose tackle either take a shot with Tank Johnson or bring back Babatunda Oshinowo from the Bears practice squad. While the middle was folding, defensive ends Robaire Smith and Orpheus Roye had excellent games until they simply wore down. Robaire and Orpheus forced the double on a relatively consistent basis allowing the linebackers opportunities to make plays.
The Browns linebackers are coming into their own slowly but they must improve at maintaining their gap integrity. Antwan Peek and Kamerion Wimbley must have great games in order for the Browns to win. The Bengals lack a great deal of experience along their line especially at tackle. If they can get to Palmer early and force some errand throws, it can change the game.
This game will likely be decided by the play of the interior linebackers. If they are making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage they can make the Bengals one dimensional. If they allow Rudi to chug away with 5-10 yard chunks all day, this one will be over fast. Keep an eye on D'Qwell Jackson. He could be the best player on this defense by year's end. Also Chaun Thompson is finally coming into his own as a stud linebacker.
Browns Punter Dave Zastudil and Bengals kicker Shayne Graham are battling injuries but both are expected to go. Look for both teams to send the heat and I would not be surprised to see a kick or punt blocked in this one. Josh Cribbs gets everyone's respect as a return man now and teams now try to pin him down to prevent the long return but with a questionable kicker don't be surprised if Cribbs doesn't have a big day this week as he might find the flight of the ball a bit lower than normal.