Charles Dickens may have described this match up best with his famous opening line from the Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness."
Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals opened up his camp for the world to see and invited HBO's Hard Knocks to broadcast the highs and lows of the Bengals preseason. The Browns Eric Mangini did his best to make this the most secretive preseason in the history of the NFL even refusing to divulge the name of his starting quarterback until opening day.
The Browns have scored just one offensive touchdown in three games and a quarterback change has now taken place. Quarterback Carson Palmer of the Bengals appears to finally be back on track leading what is one of the most balanced offenses in the NFL.
The Browns defense made promises that they have simply not been able to keep. Promises of aggression and attacking have been replaced with a flag football mentality. The Bengals meanwhile have suddenly become one of the most physical defensive teams in the NFL. They simply play a violent brand of football as they look to punish opposing offenses.
The Browns are now 0-3 with 0-16 appearing to be their destiny. Fans are split into two very distinctive categories those that are claiming for the head of Eric Mangini and those that simply no longer care. Bengals fans are neck deep in the race to the playoffs.
Browns Offense vs. Bengals Defense
Whether or not Derek Anderson has a good day against the Bengals, replacing Brady Quinn was a mistake. As I reviewed these early season games one, thing became perfectly clear and that was the game has not yet slowed down for the young quarterback. Quinn was in a rush to go through his progressions. He would go through his progressions to quickly and by the time his receivers became open he was already looking at the next receiver. Thus he ended up dumping the ball down or holding it to long. That comes with having an inexperienced quarterback at the helm.
Most coordinators will simplify the playbook in this situation the way that the Jets did with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll not only failed to adapt to his quarterback but he has also failed to put his offense in a position to succeed. Frankly, he is thus far the worst offensive coordinator in the history of Cleveland Browns football.
Derek Anderson had his best game as a pro against the Bengals. He has one of the best arms in the game today and he also has a quick release. He can also be a very accurate passer when he is using proper mechanics but far too often Derek doesn't plant his feet and he doesn't square his body. He will throw off his back foot and stare down his intended target. When he is good he can be great but when he is bad you get the Derek of last Sunday against the Ravens with his three interceptions in only one half of play.
The one bright spot for this offense is Jerome Harrison and he could be in for a huge day against the overly aggressive Bengals front seven. Jerome is quick and he runs with tremendous balance. He should be able to sell the inside run and then bounce it outside. If he can get outside the tackles, he will find room to roam.
The Browns must find out what they have in rookie receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. Going with Anderson this week is a good time to give the youngsters their shot. This season is over and it is best to start working towards the future.
Browns left tackle Joe Thomas is playing at such a high level at this point in his career that opposing defensive ends appear to give up before the first half is over. He is without a doubt the best tackle in the game today. The Bengals have a very good counterpart as well with the defensive player of the month in defensive end Antwan Odom. This should be a terrific match up but once again, it may be best to move Odom to the opposite side this week to face off against the slower footed John St. Claire. I just can't see Thomas allowing anyone to get past him the way he is playing.
A number of eyes rolled as the Browns continued to pass over Rey Maualuga on draft day. When the Browns selected receiver Brian Robiskie over Rey Maualuga in the second round there was a tremendous amount of anger displayed. It wasn't so much doubt over the local product in Robiskie but knowledge of linebacker being such a huge need of the Browns and Rey was arguably the best in this draft. To make matters worse, Rey is one of the favorites for rookie defensive player of the year in this early going while, Brian has yet to pull himself from the inactive list.
The Bengals have put together a very intimidating group of linebackers with the rookie Maualuga along with last years first round draft pick Keith Rivers. Rivers and Maualuga look for the knockout on every given opportunity. These two young men seem to feed off of each other with the big hits. They can get a little to aggressive and get themselves out of position when the opposition uses play action fakes, misdirection runs and also counter plays.
The Bengals are also pretty solid up front with the likes of Robert Geathers, Tank Johnson and the surprising Domata Peko. Peko is now in his fourth year and he has shown constant growth as a defensive end. He is a force in the middle and not only can he gain penetration into the pocket with his powerful bulrush but he is showing vastly improved hand technique. Domata Peko is a name to remember in this one.
The big question regarding this defense is at the corner positions. Leon Hall and Jonathon Joseph are talented youngsters but both have struggled with the deep ball and Derek Anderson will look to challenge this duo throughout this contest.
For the Bengals defense it is probably best just to play zone and take away the middle to deep routes while forcing Anderson to beat you underneath or to read the coverage, something he has struggled to do in the past.
Bengals Offense vs. Browns Defense
Quarterback Carson Palmer is nowhere near the level he was playing at before his injury against the Steelers in the playoffs but he is taking positive steps. He appears more confident in his deep ball now than at any time in the last two years. He is also simply terrific at dissecting zone coverage.
Look for the Browns to overload the right side of the field. Carson isn't nearly as effective when throwing to his left. Make him move to the left and throw to the left and your odds of winning increase exponentially.
The Bengals offensive line is playing fairly well but they can struggle at times when you get them out of sink. They should improve tremendously when rookie Andre Smith recovers from his injured foot. I believe Andre was the most talented player in this draft.
The Browns must stop making buddy decisions and start making wise decisions when it comes to this defense. Eric Barton and David Bowens have no business starting for this Browns team. Watching Barton dive at an engaged offensive linemen's legs instead of filling the only available running lane last week was the final straw for me. He may be a very smart player but I would rather see rookie David Veikune making mental mistakes than continue to watch Barton's lack of instinct and talent eat away at this team's chances.
David Bowens has been equally ineffective. How he manages to start while Alex Hall can't even find his way onto the playing field is beyond me. Hall is better as a pass rusher, better in coverage and just as good versus the run. The trade down with the Jets was a foolish decision but force feeding that bad decision is not in the best interest of the Browns. It is yet another reason as to why trust is an issue with this regime.
Browns nose tackle Shaun Rogers is back to where he didn't want to be and that is with another team in disarray. Rogers should be most effective in this one lined up as a defensive end with Ahtyba Rubin filling in at the nose. This should allow for a better match up and also keep Palmer guessing.
Bengals running back Cedric Benson was considered one of the biggest busts of this decade when he left Chicago but he has found a home and shown the world that he is an elite running back. Benson has also had decent speed and quickness but his vision and agility make him special. Benson could have a record breaking day if the Browns do not step up and stop the run.
The Browns will have a difficult time in stopping Benson because of the Dynamic weapons at receiver for the Bengals. Chad Johnson may not be the player he was a few seasons ago but he is very effective in finding those open lanes. Laveraneus Coles is very similar to Chad in skill set although Coles is much more deceptive and patient. The major advantage is for the Bengals is with the revitalized Chris Henry. The Browns simply do not have anyone that can match his size and speed.
The Browns secondary has been as bad as the front seven. Brandon McDonald is overmatched against quality receivers. I would not mind seeing Brandon used in the nickel or at free safety where he can use his ball hawking skills but it may be time to promote the rookie Coye Francies into a starting role.