The Browns need a win to secure a wildcard birth in the playoffs but a win will also keep the pressure on the Steelers. The Bengals have placed a lot of blame on the first match-up against the Browns for their struggles this season and they would love to be the spoiler that kept the Browns from making the playoffs.
The Browns are becoming a complete team on offense. As teams have worked to take away the passing game, it has given the offensive line and Jamal Lewis a chance to prove that this team can run the football. Jamal has rushed for 569 yards in the last five games. He is peaking at the right time and let's not forget that he put up 216 yards against the Bengals earlier this year.
The Browns offensive line will be coming in with a chip on their shoulder. I believe this is the best offensive line in football and yet they did not send a single player to the Pro Bowl. Joe Thomas is playing at a phenomenal level. What sets Joe apart from the other tackles in this league is how quickly he sets his feet. He doesn't allow the defender to get in his chest by using his feet to control the angles and his arm extension to control the defender. Joe is one of the biggest reasons in why this line has become such an elite force.
The forgotten player on the line is center Hank Fraley. Hank has been terrific all season long minus the Patriots game. What I love about Hank is his hustle. This young man some how finds his way downfield play after play to block anytime the Browns are working their short game. You can't teach what Hank brings to this offense and it is contagious. No one wants to be standing around watching as the play is happening when you see a 320 pound center hustling downfield.
Quarterback Derek Anderson brings much more to this offense than just a big arm. There was something about seeing that child-like love for the game during the Buffalo game last week that makes one think this young man is truly special. He had the wind sail the ball 5 yards beyond Kellen Winslow and he is getting a chuckle out of it. Derek has that Bret Farve ability to use humor and just his love of the game to relax those around him. He could have another huge game against this Bengals defense.
Braylon Edwards was deserving of his first Pro Bowl. Edwards has seen nothing but double and triple teams all year and he continues to make big plays at vital times during the game. Braylon has made steady improvement in running his routes this year but more importantly he is becoming a master at gaining separation from the defender. His main weapon is his ability to make the plant and cut that leaves the defender reaching out to grab him. Keep an eye on Braylon as he faces up against rookie corner Leon Hall.
The one area I would like to see improvement is with getting Kellen Winslow the football. Defenses are using a safety over the top and a linebacker underneath to defend Kellen. What I would like to see is the tight end screen to get Winslow involved in this offense earlier in the game. Use the play action fake to sell the run to the defense and with a quick turnaround and throw to the back side, you can catch the defense overloaded and Kellen will have plenty of room to run with blockers out in front.
When fully healthy the Bengals aren't very good on defense but this team has been ravaged with injuries. The front four for the Bengals is playing better than most give them credit for but again the injuries to the linebackers prevents this defense from being able to finish off the play. Defensive ends Justin Smith and Robert Geathers are pieces that you can build around. They have excellent size and quickness and while they haven't been allowed to rush the passer as often this year due to the inability to stop the run they are adequate pass rushers that defends the run fairly well.
Linebacker is the biggest need for this defense. They have been very poor in pass defense and horrid in run defense. In defense of the Bengals, you simply can not lose players like David Pollack, Ahmad Brooks, Odell Thurman, Lemar Marshall, Calib Miller and still be productive. The only cure for this unit is a quick end to this season and preparation for 2008.
The Bengals secondary has been placed in a no-win situation. They have to come up and support the run and that has taken them out of their game plan of making plays on the football. This unit is battling injuries as well. There really isn't a favorable match up facing the Browns receivers.
The Bengals still have the weapons to be a terrific offense but watching the Bengals over the last few weeks has been painful. Carson Palmer is a top 5 quarterback in this league and with weapons like TJ Houshmanzadeh, Chad Johnson and Chris Henry, there is no excuse for the offensive production this season.
The Bengals offense is lacking chemistry. They can still hit the big play but what made this unit special was their ability to sustain long drives that destroyed the confidence of the opposing defense. The timing between Palmer and his trio of terror is missing. The ball isn't getting there on time but the receivers are far from innocent as well. I have not seen the fluid route running that we are used to seeing from the Bengals offense. I don't see the unselfish blocking by the other receivers after the catch. I just don't see a unit that is competing for four quarters of football.
The offensive line of the Bengals has slipped also. This is a very talented group of linemen that can be physically dominating. Andrew Whitworth is one of the best young linemen in this game. His play has dropped off a bit from last year but with everything that has happened to this team it is understandable. Andrew has tremendous power especially in his legs. He also brings that mean, nasty streak that you love to see in offensive linemen. I am looking forward to seeing Andrew face off against Robaire Smith. This should be battle best suited for the octagon in the UFC.
The return of Chris Henry to this offense came too late to save the season but Henry is a big play threat that has given the Browns nightmares. Henry has the size and speed that is so hard to defend. Look for the Bengals to take several shots with Henry on the deep post as the Browns do not really have anyone that matches up well with Henry.
TJ and Chad are a terrific tandem at receiver. Chad has struggled versus a healthy Leigh Bodden but Leigh may not be able to play this week and Chad could find himself matched up against one of the rookie corners for the Browns in Brandon McDonald or Eric Wright. The Bengals will be looking to take advantage of the young secondary of the Browns.
Rudi Johnson has battled injuries all season long but he is finally looking to be healthy. I love watching Rudi run with the power and determination. Rudi gives this offense a balance and his absence is one of the reasons that the chemistry in the passing offense has faltered. Defenses must respect the ability of Rudi and that creates opportunity for the passing game especially off of the play action fake.
The Browns defense is coming into their own and their confidence is high after their shutout last week against the Bills. Shaun Smith, Ethan Kelly and Robaire Smith have become a solid run stuffing unit. All three are battling various injuries but should be ready to go this week. Their ability to bull rush their way to the quarterback and also the strength to hold up against the run is the primary reason for the recent success for this defense.
Linebacker Andra Davis may have had his best game as a Brown last week. Dra has looked slow and uncertain for most of this season but he showed flashes of speed and aggressiveness last week. Andra always seems to have a great game against Carson Palmer and it will be needed this week. Leon Williams is the hard hitting force that can blow up plays and D'Qwell Jackson is becoming a complete linebacker. Look for this trio to have a huge game this week.
The best combination that the Browns seem to have at outside linebacker is Kamerion Wimbley and Chaun Thompson. Their speed and athleticism is a difficult match-up for most tackles in this league. Their ability to drop in coverage has shown dramatic improvement as the season has progressed. Do not be surprised if Chaun doesn't have another big game this week. I am starting to think that maybe Chaun is starting to come into his own and may just become the player Butch Davis envisioned when he was drafted.
The Browns secondary has shown monumental improvement as this season has progressed but they must step up their game this week. With Leigh Bodden's status in doubt, the Browns will likely start rookies Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright with Daven Holly manning the slot position. Wright has performed better than anyone could have hoped for as he has faced some of the NFL's elite receivers and held his own but the big surprise has been the play of unheralded Brandon McDonald.
McDonald a rookie out of Memphis was a long shot to make the team but not only did he make the team, he has made an impact. In very limited play, Brandon has 9 pass deflections and 2 interceptions. He will be in for the biggest challenge of his young career as he faces off against the elite receiving corps of the Bengals.
Two of the leagues best return men will face off, as the Browns Joshua Cribbs and the Bengals Glen Holt are likely to have a huge impact on Sunday's game. Cribbs was elected to the Pro Bowl this week and will be looking to show everyone why they made the right decision. Holt had a huge game against the Browns in their first meeting.
It is also a match-up of two of the leagues best place kickers. Bengals Shayne Graham has made 28 of 31 field goal attempts this year. The Browns Phil Dawson is 24 of 27 and every game seems to come down to a Phil Dawson kick.