When the Cincinnati Bengals were down 16 points to the Green Bay Packers in the third quarter Sunday, the team could have folded and become another “what if” like most teams that lose a 14-point lead the way they did. Instead, the team came from behind in a remarkable victory.
After an emotional week against their divisional rivals Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football and then playing a streaking Packers team on Sunday, the Bengals have a comparatively easy game to play come 1 pm Sunday against the Cleveland Browns (1-2) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Or is it?
Over the last several years, the Battle for Ohio has become more of a bludgeoning by the Bengals (2-1) as the team has won four of the last five meetings. The Bengals lead the overall series 42-37. After the flak the Cleveland Browns (1-2) took from trading their premier running back and former first-round pick Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts, the squad came out and rallied to a 31-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
So before the Bengals write off Sundays’ game as victory 43, we have some key factors to review.
1. Turn overs
Nothing is more reiterated in football than ball control. From little league to amateur and professional, if you give up the ball – or don’t take the ball away – you’re going to give up the game. Last week was no exception The Bengals coughed up the ball four times (three fumbles and one interception). If it wasn’t for Green Bay trying it’s best to match the Bengals with four turnovers of its own, than the outcome may have been very different.
2. Brian Hoyer
The Brown’s quarterback led the team to victory against the Minnesota Viking last week with a game-winning touchdown pass to TE Jordan Cameron with less than a minute in regulation. Hoyer finished the day 30 of 54 for 321 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Although the three interceptions brought down the fifth-year quarterback’s overall performance, a few of the 54 passes are going to end up where they shouldn’t be, so if the Browns can get the running game going, Cleveland has pretty good chances with Hoyer behind center.
Cincinnati’s defense was stumbling during the preseason and the first game of the season against the Bears, but the unit is starting to run on all cylinders. With Leon Hall playing lockdown corner and getting an interception during the Packers’ game, the secondary has been playing on par with last season. Take into consideration the injuries that have been racking up in the secondary, and the unit has been playing exceptional.
The defensive line is finally starting to get the quarter back pressure they were notorious for last season. Both Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson had sacks against Aaron Rodgers, along with multiple tipped balls at the line of scrimmage. While Geno Atkins hasn’t gotten off to a fast start this year, the pressure he has been generating is flushing the quarterback out of the pocket and the DE’s are mopping up.
Cleveland’s first-round pick LB Barkevious Mingo has registered a sack in both of the games he’s played in during the regular season. While he missed a majority of the preseason with a bruised lung, it hasn’t hindered his performance yet. Unfortunately for him, he will be matched up against Bengal’s veteran Andrew Whitworth who has been very good in pass protection since coming back from his knee injury that kept him off the field the entire preseason.
Cleveland also has five-year veteran defensive tackle Desmond Bryant who will have a career year if he keeps up his current pace. Through three games, Bryant has 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles. The Bengals’ offensive line has done a good job keeping Dalton’s jersey clean, but the Cleveland Browns are quietly becoming a good defensive team.
Even though Cleveland has a decent defense, and will be playing at home. The nod still goes towards a tested and very good Bengals’ defense.
3. Which Andy Dalton will show up Sunday?
The Bengals’ quarterback has been average-to-good in three games so far this season. Against Pittsburgh, Dalton barely completed 50 percent of his passes with a touchdown, but last Sunday was 20 of 28 with two touchdowns and an interception.
The Browns’ defense is good but is passer-friendly with only two interceptions. Even though the defense ranks 12th in the NFL with 215 passing yards, that is from preventing yards-after-catch.
Since the downfield Dalton experiment has failed, and the offense’s best weapons are big TE’s and a shifty running back, Dalton should be able to spread the ball around on intermediate routes to his offensive weapons.
If Cleveland gets to Dalton early, he is susceptible like any other NFL quarterback to throwing errant throws that can be picked off.
4. Giovani Bernard
A smile almost always ensues with the mention of that name. The guy is simply electric. So far this season, Bernard has 110 yards on 22 carries for a 5.0 average per carry with two touchdowns.
You may say, “That’s pretty good, but it isn’t that great.” And that would be a valid argument, but take into consideration he has 84 yards on six catches with a touchdown receiving and he is a nightmare in the backfield for defensive coordinators.
Last week, Bernard had 50 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown against what is considered a good rushing defense in the Packers. The Cleveland Browns will be coming after him with a seventh ranked rushing defense that gives up a stingy 84 yards a game.
But I like Bernard’s’ ability to make cut backs and find holes in defenses, something he did last week against Green Bay.
With a tough defense the Cleveland Browns will have many opportunities to be in games and win some this season. However, with a broken offense that features a non-existent ground game, the Bengals’ defense will show them how it is done.
With the Bengals’ defense starting to flex its muscles and Dalton ‘n company starting to click, Cleveland’s “Dawg Pound” is going to be very lonely Sunday.
Bengals win 19-10