Just a few short months ago, both the Browns and Bengals had every reason to be optimistic. The 2008 season should have been a continuation of the Browns' success just one year ago. With six pro bowl players returning along with the addition of WR Donte Stallworth, NT Shaun Rodgers and DE Corey Williams, Browns fans weren't just thinking playoffs.
2008 was to be the year Carson Palmer was finally healthy and the Bengals were set to make a playoff run. Watching the Bengals in camp this year, I saw a team that was focused. They were very business-like. WR Chad Johnson was trying to make a stir but this team had the mindset of a winner. The lack of a running game, however, ended those hopes and played a huge role in Palmer going down with yet another injury.
This game doesn't have any bearing on the playoffs. This game will only be watched by the diehard faithful. Why should you watch? The Bengals do not want to go into the offseason being swept by a Browns team that appears to have quit. The Browns do not want to end up at the bottom of the division. It is the Battle of Ohio and bragging rights are at stake.
Browns Offense vs. Bengals Defense
The Browns haven't scored an offensive touchdown in their last 4 games. Quarterback Ken Dorsey appears completely lost in trying to run this offense. The offensive line isn't helping him in the least. The running game is nonexistent. TE Kellen Winslow looks to be finished for the season with an ankle injury. TE Steve Heiden is now on injured reserve along with quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.
The only bright spot for this offense is the fact that WR Braylon Edwards is now catching the ball with ease. During Monday's contest against the Eagles, something stood out with Edwards -- and not just the fact that he was actually catching the football: he was catching the ball clean. He did not rebound the ball off of his body but, rather, he snatched it out of the air cleanly with his fingers.
Think the Browns are certain to score an offensive touchdown against the miserable defense of the Bengals? Think again. The Bengals' D may be somewhat lacking in the area of talent, but this group of Bengals is playing hard and physical. They had every reason to give up yet they have gotten better as the season has progressed.
Watching the Bengals defense, I have been impressed with how well they are executing compared to earlier in the year. There seemed to be a period in which there was some uncertainty, not only about the defensive philosophy they were employing but also trust in one another.
The Bengals have gone from playing the ball to playing the man. This means they are no longer just waiting for an opportunity to make an interception or a big hit but they are now more aggressive and they are looking to make plays in the backfield. This group loves to get after the quarterback. They will stunt. They will shift. They will bring pressure from every conceivable angle. Most importantly is this new gang-tackle mentality that is spread throughout the Bengals defense.
Bengals Offense vs. Browns Defense
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled mightily in the previous meeting against the Browns. It was his first start in a couple of years and it showed. He was hesitant, missed some easy throws and the Browns threw every blitz imaginable at the young quarterback. This was not a game for which Fitzpatrick will wish to be remembered.
Since the first contest, Fitzpatrick has become more confident in his ability to throw the football. He doesn't like to throw it deep but he will work the short to mid-range game. Ryan also has tremendous mobility; he can pick up yards with his feet when needed.
The real struggle for this Bengals offense has been the offensive line and the running game. The Bengals' offensive line is in dire need of an overhaul. While there is some individual talent along the line, the chemistry simply isn't there. They aren't providing adequate pass protection nor are they opening up lanes in the running game. The Bengals will be looking to add to both units in this upcoming draft and free agency.
The wide receiver position continues to be the real strength of this Bengals offense. That strength, however, is wasted. When your quarterback isn't able to connect on the deep ball and you lack the ability to pound out yards on the ground, everything becomes known to the opposing defense. The defense doesn't have to take risks to have success. They know they can be aggressive without having to worry about that 50-yard seam route. The timing and accuracy simply isn't there.
The Browns' defense was aggressive and played very tight coverage in the first meeting. However, since then, this defense has reverted to the bend-but-don't-break philosophy that most Browns fans have come to hate. Watching the Steelers vs. the Ravens last week was a stiff reminder of what the Browns' defense is missing. It is more than a matter of personnel. It is a philosophical difference and also a mindset that this team does not have. With the offense struggling so mightily, it will be up to the defense and special teams to produce points in this one.
Greg's Game Preview
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