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Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Positional Breakdown & Notes

Not much has gone right for Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer this year.
Not much has gone right for Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer this year.

Wipe last week's game from your memory. In fact, if you want, wipe all of the games that Jake Delhomme started from your memory if that makes you happy. Chances are, we're not going to have to worry about Delhomme anymore now that promising rookie Colt McCoy is back in the saddle.

This is an incredibly important three-game stretch for the Browns. All of the games are within the division, and Eric Mangini knows his team has to start showing some more consistency on offense. Cleveland needs to take care of business in Cincinnati, because the "difficult" games are supposed to be the ones in Week 16 and Week 17.

Here are some notes heading into the game, followed by my positional breakdown and prediction for the game:

  • Although he didn't throw an interception earlier this season against Cleveland, our defensive backs should be ready for a couple of big-time mistakes from Carson Palmer. He threw two pick sixes a week ago against Pittsburgh and he hasn't been able to finish games all season.
  • My guess is that while it isn't considered a "big deal" around the league anymore since both teams are out of playoff contention, someone on the Bengals' offense will still try to get a cheap shot on T.J. Ward.
  • Since cornerback Eric King was waived and had been active the past couple of weeks, I imagine that Coye Francies will be active in his first week back on the 53-man roster. He probably won't see the field on defense but could play a factor on special teams.
  • The Browns might not have the services of Evan Moore again, someone Colt McCoy has been able to find in a pinch. The Browns should consider getting tight end Alex Smith some work as a receiving tight end instead of Robert Royal. After all, it's about time the Browns get some use out of that 53-man roster spot Smith has been occupying.
  • When the Browns were heavy underdogs against the Saints and Patriots, the Browns used a lot of creativity to aid them the victory. Even the following week against the Jets, they tried a surprise onside kick. Since then, the number of trick/risk plays have been cut down. Maybe that's because the staff feels the Browns are good enough to beat the teams they've played (i.e. Jacksonville, Carolina, Miami, Buffalo) without them. The Cyclone formation was pumped up so much in training camp -- I think it's about time that some more effort went into utilizing the formation, even though it was originally intended to spell Jake Delhomme from the game rather than McCoy.
  • With three wide receivers regularly on the inactive list, it might be difficult for any of them to see the field. I think Mangini is focused on winning versus developing players that the team has not highly invested in. At the same time, I'd like to see Carlton Mitchell in action.
  • The Browns supposedly practiced this week indoors, but with the doors on the building open so that the facility was cold. As long as it doesn't rain, we're good.

Position-by-Position Breakdown

Pos Adv  Reason
QB - Plain and simple, much like Jake Delhomme has been a liability for the Browns, Carson Palmer has been a liability for the Bengals. He had thrown five pick sixes this season and has been intercepted at crucial moments of games. He can still put good-looking numbers on the stat sheet, but ultimately he is not doing what it takes to win.
Colt McCoy makes his return game against Cincinnati. It is hard to imagine there being a lot of rust for McCoy, considering he didn't even look that rusty when he was "fed to the wolves" (that's what we thought prior to the game) against the Steelers considering his limited work with the first-team offense. McCoy is looking to pick up his first division win.
RB - You never want your running back to be known for fumbling, but Peyton Hillis has now lost five fumbles on the year. He seems to really have a difficult time when it is raining. That needs to be corrected in the future, but for now, unless it is raining on Sunday, Hillis should continue running and hurdling the way he has been this season. He is good enough to overcome his own mistakes.
Cedric Benson's productivity has been down this year, as he is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. The Bengals' offense is stuck in a situation where the offensive coordinator wants to go pass happy, and if he does decide to try out the run, if it doesn't work, the defense usually gives up points and the ground game has to be abandoned.
- No one is going to argue that the combination of Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley, and Jermaine Gresham is a talented bunch. It's usually the little things that hurts this unit though -- such as one receiver getting frustrated if they don't see the ball for a half, or the receiver breaking their route off in a different direction than Palmer anticipated.
With McCoy returning at quarterback, we'll probably see a little bit more of Chansi Stuckey involved in the offense again. I think Joshua Cribbs' role could really expand as a receiver this week too, meaning less time for Brian Robiskie. Evan Moore's status for the game is still uncertain, but Ben Watson is hoping for a bounceback week.

OL -

McCoy is going to be able to escape some of the bad situations the offensive line put Delhomme in the past couple of weeks. That might hold Cincinnati's pass rush back a bit (not that they have one to begin with). The Bengals' offensive line is pretty average; I don't see the unit as being particularly weak, but it's still worth trying to flush the non-mobile Carson Palmer out of the pocket.
DL - Either the Bills' patchwork offensive line did a heck of a job containing Shaun Rogers last week, or Rogers didn't have the greatest game. The announcers made a point that Rogers was playing some more defensive end as opposed to nose tackle.
The Bengals have been among the worst in the league at generating a pass rush, which bodes well for McCoy having time to throw. The Browns don't have a huge edge here, but when Rogers is on, his pass rush makes up the difference.
LB - Scott Fujita is scheduled to miss this week's game again, and wth David Bowens suffering a concussion last week, his status is a little up in the air. With how often the Browns use Gresham, I'm a little concerned that the tight end will find some wide open areas with the team thin at linebacker.
The Bengals still have a decent tackling trio of linebackers in Rey Maualuga, Dhani Jones, and Keith Rivers. The thing that hasn't elevated them higher is that they have failed to make a lot of game-changing plays this year, something that they were known for a year ago.
DB - I don't think the Browns are going to let Terrell Owens surpass the 200-yard mark again. Still, Cleveland's secondary will have to be on their toes. Since Joe Haden entered the lineup, the secondary did well against Jacksonville, Carolina, Miami, and Buffalo. The problem was that none of those teams are known for having high-powered passing games. Palmer will air it out more often than those teams did.
The Bengals' secondary is beat up, and honestly, if we don't even throw the ball to a guy like Mohamed Massaquoi, a talented player like Leon Hall can't make much of an impact. Among the injuries in Cincinnati's secondary are Adam Jones, Chris Crocker, and "Browns Killer" Chinedum Ndukwe. In addition, Jonathan Joseph missed last week's game to injury. He is expected to play this week.
ST - The Bengals have been through three kickers this season. Their current one is rookie Clint Stitser. That's not to say Stitser is a joke, but more times than not, when you take a flier on a rookie, they will miss some "easy" kicks. Cleveland is favored here because of how good Reggie Hodges is; their return game no longer plays a factor in the decision (the Bengals' return game isn't a threat either).

My confidence this week is the result of two things:

  • Colt McCoy is back under center, which should improve the offense.
  • The Bengals have lost ten games in a row because they really can't finish games, even compared to the Browns!

Nonetheless, the Bengals usually don't lay a complete egg against us, so I'll go with the same result as the first time these two teams played.

FINAL PREDICTION: Cleveland Browns 23, Cincinnati Bengals 20.