This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns will have their first division game of the year as they take on the Cincinnati Bengals in the Battle of Ohio. Each week, we take a look at a five key points about our upcoming opponent. Let's get things started with an issue that also plagued the Browns' Week 1 opponent: protection up front. Also, be sure to look at key point No. 5 to see who gave RB Trent Richardson some bulletin board material.
#1 - Thin on the Offensive Line: Last week, the Browns took advantage of the fact that the Eagles were not very stable on the left side of the offensive line. The Bengals are in a similar boat. During their preseason opener, the Bengals lost starting left guard Travelle Wharton for the season to a knee injury. A few weeks later, they found themselves in search of a new center when Kyle Cook went down with an ankle injury.
The Bengals signed Jeff Faine off the street, and the team quickly coached him up and started him against the Ravens. All things considered, Cincinnati's offensive line was "better than expected" against the Ravens, but they still yielded four sacks and Andy Dalton faced pressure often. Cleveland may not get to Dalton as much as they got to Michael Vick a week ago, but there should certainly be some opportunities for the defense to disrupt Dalton in the pocket.
#2 - Who is Andrew Hawkins? As I watched last week's Monday Night game, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins was a standout receiver. He isn't very big at 5'7", but is very quick and made things happen for Cincinnati's offense last week when A.J. Green was covered. Hawkins was targeted 9 times and finished with 8 catches for 86 yards. He was utilized on a lot of quick screen type of plays, but it worked.
Cleveland's cornerbacks tackle pretty well, but this is a game where we can't have Dimitri Patterson giving Hawkins a huge cushion right off the bat. Hawkins is the team's No. 3 receiver and generally lined up in the slot, so Patterson should be fine covering him there as Buster Skrine goes to the outside. Hawkins saw 51% of the team's snaps last week, while Armon Binns made the start alongside Green and played in 78% of the snaps. Binns finished with 4 catches for 28 yards on 5 targets.
#3 - Doesn't Break the Big Run: With Joe Haden out this week, the Browns may try to shadow wide receiver A.J. Green with a safety for double coverage. If that is the case, it obviously leaves Cleveland more vulnerable to the run. Last week, LeSean McCoy was a definite speedster and a threat to take it to the house on any given play. The Bengals went out and signed the law firm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, this offseason to replace Cedric Benson.
Green-Ellis is a good power runner who can fight for extra yardage, and he fared well against Baltimore last week, going for 91 yards on 18 carries. Two things stand out with Green-Ellis, though: he doesn't catch many passes, and he doesn't break a lot of big runs. Last year with the Patriots, his longest run on the season went for just 18 yards. He only caught 9 passes all year long. The point is that while the defense had to especially key in on McCoy in Week 1, that doesn't hold true for Green-Ellis in Week 2, giving the defense some room to cover for Haden's absence.
#4 - Sophomore Slump for Dalton? In 2011, Andy Dalton made his mark in the NFL by leading several comeback victories en route to a playoff berth for the Bengals. When the going got tough against the Ravens this past Sunday, Dalton and the Bengals crumbled. Our Bengals affiliate, Cincy Jungle, sees things in a much more optimistic view:
Yes, he threw a pick six.... but that was to Ed Reed who's probably scored a touchdown after intercepting every quarterback he's ever faced. He's a guaranteed hall of famer for a reason. All in all, Dalton looked good against the Ravens. He was accurate, he overthrew his deep threat a few times (arm strength?) and kept his composure against Ray Lewis and one of the toughest defenses around. I think Andy Dalton is going to have just as good of a year, if not better, in 2012.
Dalton overthrew many of his receivers against the Ravens, but his biggest credit has been that he is willing to throw the ball up for A.J. Green -- even if they aren't great throws -- and try to let the big guy make a play on the ball. I'm not so sure he can make a living on doing that much longer, though. Having a guy like Hawkins helps, but Dalton needs to have a rebound performance against the Browns to avoid a quick 0-2 start in the division.
#5 - Rey Maualuga Talks Down Trent Richardson: The Bengals' defense was bad against the Ravens in Week 1. I don't expect Cleveland to copy what Baltimore does, but Cleveland's staff should definitely see what worked with Baltimore's up-tempo approach against the Bengals. One of the guys who didn't deliver last week, or for much of his career for that matter, is Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga. For whatever reason, Maualuga decided to provide some bulletin board material for RB Trent Richardson this week:
"He can run you over and you can miss a tackle, at the same time, from what we've seen he didn't do nothing spectacular," Maualuga said. "From running screens, missing passes, trying to find a hole when he's running the ball. He just didn't do anything spectacular from what I've seen. I'm pretty sure he's going to want to get after it once he plays us."
Richardson responded and he is fired up to show everyone why the Browns drafted him at No. 3 overall:
"Most definitely," Richardson told The Plain Dealer on Thursday, regarding whether Maualuga's comment was bulletin board material for him. "When somebody wants to talk mess, I mean, hey, that's them. I let my game speak for itself, so if they want to see how mad I am, or how upset they got me about the comment, you'll see Sunday."
"It was my first game back, and I didn't know what to expect," Richardson said. "It was the first time I experienced the speed of an NFL game. Now I know what to expect, and I'm much more confident heading into this game."
Are we in for another helmet-blast this Sunday?