Remember this game? http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200709160cle.htm
At some point over the last two years, through the defections of guys like T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the injury/decline of Carson Palmer, the Bengals are no longer a top tier offense. On the other hand, the Bengals defense has improved over the same time. They aren't great, but enough to keep the team in the playoff picture last year and so far this year.
But the question is, do Cincinnati fans even care? I mean, the Reds are in the playoffs.
When the Browns have the ball
The Browns offense is a work in progress. Coming into the year, I think the vision was for a solid running game centered around Jerome Harrison and Montario Hardesty with improving passing attack with longtime vet Jake Delhomme and second year wide outs, Brian Robiskie and Mohammad Massaquoi. Out of all those guys, only Massaquoi has avoided missing extended time due to injury- and he has been terrible and forgotten.
But that is not to say the Browns don't have some promising developments that have come out of the last 3 weeks. Seneca Wallace is playing as well as any Browns QB in 3 years. Peyton Hillis has made Josh McDaniels look like a fool for not playing him and an even bigger fool for giving him away (with picks!) for a 3rd string QB. And Josh Cribbs has emerged into the best WR on the team, and a solid starting option.
The Bengals have been ok in defense, but probably not as good as they hoped. They rank 13th in DVOA and 14th in DAVE, just above average.
They have been very good against the pass (-12.4% DVOA), with a couple
emerging stars at corners in Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall. Jake Delhomme is questionable, but either way, I don't think trying to throw to struggling receivers is the answer. They have had a little trouble with #2 WRs (11.7% DVOA, 21st), so maybe Cribbs can find some soft spots. But they are #1 against #1 WRs, and are really good against other WRs, RBs, and TEs.
If there is a weakness in the Bengals D, it is in the running game, where they rank 25th in DVOA at 3.5%. The Browns would be wise to attack with Peyton Hillis, ranked 6th in the NFL in both DVOA and DYAR. In short, he has been great in making big plays, always getting positive yards, and finding the end zone. He is a 3rd down back mixed with a short yardage back mixed with a every down back mixed with a full back. (In case you were wondering, Jerome Harrison is the worst back in the league on a per carry basis).
When the Bengals have the ball
Last year, the most common excuse for Carson Palmer defenders was that he didn't have enough weapons. Mike Brown continued his reputation as a Dan Snyder for players with off the field issues. To get Palmer more weapons, the Bengals brought in Terrell Owens and drafted Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley in the first 3 rounds.
Well, Ownens is dead last in DYAR among starting WRs. Shipley, however is 14th. And Gresham has shown some flashes. Ochocinco has been very average. Still, Palmer doesn't look anything near his prime. He is almost exactly average (-.2% DVOA) on a per play basis and 15th in DYAR. The Browns D had looked pretty good all year, except for Eric Wright last week. That has skewed the numbers to much, to the point where the Browns now rank 24th against the pass. While they rank 29th against #1 WRs, they are top 4 against #2 WRs and other WRs. Rob Ryan's defense continues to struggle against TEs, ranked #21.
Cedric Benson has become a huge part of the Bengals offense. He is the epitome of overrated average running back that gets way too many carries (-21% worse than average, 32nd). The Browns would be happy if the Bengals give Benson the ball 20-30 times. The Browns 10th against the run (-16%).
We still haven't seen the dominance that we are used to with a Dawson-Cribbs-Pontbriand-Costanzo led special teams. The Browns are 20th with a -2.3% DVOA. And 12th in DAVE. Kick coverage continues to be our best unit. FG/XP has been our worst so far.
The Bengals have been good, 10th in the league overall. Their FG kicking, with Mike Nugent has been the best in the league. However, they have been bad in kick coverage, so maybe we can get a return out of Cribbs or at least som decent field position if they kick away from him.
Thoughts and Conclusions
I like the matchup. Neither TO nor Ochocinco really scare me at this point in their careers. Barring another meltdown by one of our corners, we should be ok against the pass, and I'd love for the Bengals to have a conservative play call against us. Hillis should have every chance to build off of his career game against the Ravens last week.
If Wallace is the QB, hopefully he continues his chemistry with Cribbs. If its Delhomme, hopefully he can manage the game and stay away from mistakes against a couple great young corners.