The Browns went 0-3 in the month of September to open the season. Let's hope that October brings better results for them as they come back home to face the Cincinnati Bengals in the Battle of Ohio. It'll be interesting to see whether Jake Delhomme returns this week; if he does, it'll be his first home game in the regular season.
The Browns found their identity (running the football) last week against the Baltimore Ravens, but the Cincinnati Bengals are also good at defending the run and will be prepared for him. If the Bengals key in on Peyton Hillis, will Delhomme or Wallace be able to beat a secondary that did extremely well against Joe Flacco and Jimmy Clausen the past two weeks?
Here are some notes heading into the game, followed by my positional breakdown and prediction for the game:
- First off, Ronald McDonald won't have a chance to "rape" Terrell Owens this week. Nonetheless, Owens has faced the Browns quite a few times during his career. He's already faced Cleveland as members of the 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys, and Bills. Teamed up with Ochocinco, will either of the receivers be in for big days?
- There's a chance that we may see the debut of rookie offensive lineman Shawn Lauvao. Lauvao is listed as questionable. Although I can't imagine him starting, I'm still interested in seeing a right side of the line that features him and Tony Pashos. John St. Clair is doubtful, so Pashos should start this week.
- Although I liked the Browns' gameplan last week, I think the team still needs to find a way to get Joshua Cribbs some more touches out of the Wildcat. Having Seneca Wallace as the starting quarterback has limited the team's willingness to deploy the Cyclone formation. That's another reason I'd like to see Jake Delhomme back in there; the Cyclone was hyped so much through all of training camp, but we've only really seen it for a play or two in Week 1.
- I think it's good that the coaching staff has faith in Eric Wright this week, but if for some reason he looks awful in the first half, I hope we see some defensive adjustments, even if it means putting Mike Adams in at cornerback ahead of Wright (I think the staff would go with a veteran over the rookie Joe Haden).
- Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan won't lose his aggressiveness on all-out blitzes, but the key this week will be that the Browns can generate some pressure when they aren't bringing all-out blitzes. Why? Because Marcus Benard and Shaun Rogers should be good-to-go.
- I don't think this will happen, but I'd still like to see the Browns come out in a full house type formation that features Lawrence Vickers, Peyton Hillis, and Jerome Harrison. I think it could be particularly useful on screen plays, since either Hillis or Harrison could be on the receiving end of the play.
- What is in the weather forecast tomorrow? RAIN! Oh no! The Browns haven't had the best of luck with rain this year, but I also don't anticipate Carson Palmer getting his mechanics together in a rainfest. If it becomes a battle of the running backs on the ground, I still like the Browns to come away with a victory due to the home field advantage factor.
|QB||The "even" ranking here is somewhat of a challenge to Carson Palmer to "prove me wrong." He should be the better quarterback given his history, but he has not been able to take advantage of the talented receivers around him and has even been a liability in some instances. If Palmer continues to play the way that he has been playing, then I'm confident that Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace won't be any worse than him.
|RB||Cedric Benson's longest carry this season has been 13 yards. The Browns have done a fair job at preventing big runs and have had quite a few stops at the line of scrimmage. Peyton Hillis ran all over one of the best run defenses in the league last week. While that type of performance can't be expected every week, his power and style of play certainly looks worthy of being NFL starting caliber. The big question for me this week is how Jerome Harrison is used in substitution, hopefully on screens.
Mohamaed Massaquoi only has three catches this week, but until Jake Delhomme comes back (to be determined) he won't have many opportunities to shine. Terrell Owens is getting a tad frustrated that he and the Bengals' offense hasn't taken off as it was expected too, but they clearly have a lot of pieces in place when you consider Chad Ochocinco, Jordan Shipley, and Jermaine Gresham.
|OL||A solid day for a Browns running back seems to go hand-in-hand with a great performance from the offensive line. The unit seemed to be on top of their game last week and also kept Seneca Wallace clean against the Ravens' pass rush. Tony Pashos should start after doing well last week, and there's a chance Shawn Lauvao might be active.
|DL||Part of the reason I list this ranking as "even" is because both teams have question marks on the defensive line. Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom missed last week's game against Carolina and is questionable for Sunday's contest. The Browns had times this week where Shaun Rogers, Robaire Smith, and Kenyon Coleman were out, but Mangini said that all three of them are expected to play. Getting Rogers back for a pass rush would be a big help for the Browns.
|LB||The Bengals' starting trio of Dhani Jones, Rey Maualuga, and Keith Rivers know how to come up with some key stops in third down situations, although they don't really generate a significant pass rush. The Browns will have Marcus Benard back this week, and while I think the unit has tackled well, I'd like to see the Browns work in some more pressure from Matt Roth's side. Hopefully the combination of Rogers+Roth can create some havoc to help force turnovers.
|DB||While I think Eric Wright's dismal day against the Ravens was a fluke, the Bengals have quite an impressive group in Leon Hall, Jonathan Joseph, and Adam "Pacman" Jones.
The Browns need to watch out for backup safety Chinedum Ndukweh. He has six career interceptions, and three of them have been against Cleveland. He has seven career sacks, and three of them were against Cleveland. Hopefully he's not due for another big game against the Browns; maybe we'll be taking about T.J. Ward after the game instead.
|ST||I've been amazed at how well opposing teams have done in terms of kicking the ball away from Joshua Cribbs. Kickers are either kicking it perfectly to the upback or out of the back of the end zone, and punters are booting it out of bounds or inside the ten. I still have to give Cleveland the advantage here due to how well they recover kicks and the return threat of Cribbs, although it should be noted that Mike Nugent (Bengals kicker) is off to a nice start.
I'm going against my word from two weeks ago when I said I wouldn't pick the Browns again until they won. I needed to see the Browns find their identity on offense again, and they found it last week against Baltimore. If the defense (or Eric Wright) can pull it together like they did the first two weeks of the season and make it a long day for Carson Palmer, the Browns can finally find themselves on the right side of a close game.
FINAL PREDICTION: Cleveland Browns 24, Cincinnati Bengals 20.
CHRIS' RECORD IN PICKING BROWNS GAMES: 1-2
CHRIS' OVERALL NFL PREDICTIONS RECORD: 27-21