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Bengals-Browns Primer: Back to Where It All Started

The Bengals get the rematch with Cleveland this Sunday at PBS.  The first Cleveland game is the first in the team’s epic 10-game losing streak, and is when the wheels began to fall off the cart for Cincy in 2010.  The Bengals entered the game at 2-1, their only loss was at New England, and they had bested Baltimore for a 1-0 division record. Marvin Lewis was the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, the Bengals were a vogue pick for the Super Bowl, and generally speaking it was all candy and smiles in the Queen City. The 23-20 loss at Cleveland in week four was deep bruise to the team’s confidence and it showed the kind of poor discipline and weak stomachs in crunch time they would display more and more as the season wore on.  

However, the offense had perhaps their best outing of the 2010 campaign that early October day.  Palmer was nearly perfect through the air going 25 of 36 for a whopping 371 yards and two touchdowns.  He had no interceptions in that game—a rarity this year, but his two lost fumbles proved costly.  Terrell Owens was superb with his finest game as a Bengal.  T.O. had ten catches for 222 yards and a touchdown, but he had a crucial drop that could have secured the game for the Bengals. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals could not take advantage of weak Browns quarterback position, allowing Seneca Wallace to efficiently manage the game.  Helping Wallace’s cause was the emergence of RB Peyton Hillis, who powered his way to 107 yards on 27 carries.  Hillis put the game away in the fourth quarter on a dynamic 24 yard dash to the outside on 2nd and 7with 2:47 left.  The Bengals knew the Browns were going to run, but couldn’t stop it—another trend for 2010 that was both unexpected and disappointing for Bengal Nation. 

Penalties were a killer as a defensive pass interference call on Dhani Jones wiped out a 3rd down stop and led to a Cleveland touchdown, while a Bengal possession towards the end was stopped short because of an offensive pass interference call on Chad Ochocinco.  But the coup-de-gras for Cincy was an inexplicable defensive holding call on DT Pat Sims at the Cleveland 11-yard line as the Bengals were fighting for one more possession.  The foul gave the Browns an easy first down, and an opportunity to burn off more of the precious 4 minutes and change that was left in the game. 

Eleven weeks later, Sunday at 1:00 at a snowy PBS, the Bengals get an opportunity to avenge the loss and stop the skid the started with these same Browns.  The game is blacked out in the greater Cincinnati area as it was not sold out. 

The Bengals are anything but candy and smiles now.  Marvin Lewis is all but gone, essentially playing out his contract that expires in a little over 3 weeks.  Carson Palmer, once the face of Lewis’ rebuilding efforts in Cincinnati, may also be an offseason casualty.  Mainstays like Chad Ochocinco and Bobbie Williams may be gone as well. T.O. has become the latest in a long line of outspoken Bengals to call out management for poor decision making, and it will likely lead to his departure as well. What was a golden opportunity has turned into another bungling season of misery.

Will beating Cleveland Sunday change that?  No, but the Bengals are due for a win and this is the their best opportunity to get it with powerful San Diego and bruising Baltimore the last two teams on the schedule. 

Looking at the statistics, the Bengals match up fairly evenly with their Ohio co-residents.  They are fairly even on offense, with the Bengals besting the Browns through the air, and the Cleveland running game being better than Cincinnati’s.  Defensively, they are remarkably even in nearly every category.  The one outlier:  Points Allowed.  Cleveland averages 19.4, Cincinnati a whole touchdown more at 26.5.  Considering the number of interceptions Carson Palmer has thrown, and the poor coverage play on special teams, that’s not surprising. 

For the Bengals to win this one, they need to contain Hillis and force the Browns into 3rd-and-long situations, where they can blitz McCoy and force the youngster into early throws.  The Bengals defensive secondary will need the help, because if the Browns can pick-and-choose their spots to throw it, the depleted Bengal backfield could be in for a long day.  On offense, the Bengals need to simply control their mistakes.  Cleveland can be scored upon, but Palmer must eliminate the interceptions and fumbles, and the team must work to keep the costly penalties from ruining drives. T.O., Chad, Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham should be able to get open.  Carson must be able to make the throws and be smart with the football.  Cedric Benson should be able to run on the Cleveland front that gives up 124 yards per game, but don’t count on it. Containing Joshua Cribbs on returns will once again be a priority. 

As for players to watch, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Anthony Collins and Evan Mathis along the offensive line, and with both Chad and T.O. nursing injuries it will be interesting to see if WR Jerome Simpson gets a chance to suit up. On defensive, look for Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins to continue to progress as rookie pass rushers. 

On the injury front, the Bengals are healthy (when you discount the 17 players on IR), with only new DB Jonathan Wade ruled doubtful. 

The Bengals have what the Browns don’t: a bevy of big name players who are supposed to be superstars in guys like Carson Palmer, T.O., Chad, and Cedric Benson.  The Browns bring guys who aren’t supposed to be big names, like Peyton Hillis, Josh Cribbs, and Colt McCoy.  But the Browns have what the Bengals don’t—a sense of pride and heart. That grittiness has allowed them to win tilts with New England and New Orleans while the Bengals were losing to teams like Buffalo. 

For that reason, I think the Browns get it done again.  I see a competitive game, one in which the Bengals might actually dominate, but they will lose the game by wilting at the end, with a costly turnover, penalty or bone-headed play-call dealing the death blow to their chances.  Call it Browns 24, Bengals 20.

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