This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns will take on the Cincinnati Bengals. It might only be Week 6, but this will be the second and final time these two teams meet this season. Some things have changed since our scouting report of the Bengals in Week 2, but there are a few differences this time around. I'll try to stay fresh in my commentary here, but feel free to reference our Week 2 scouting report as well. Let's take a look at five key points to consider when scouting the Bengals.
#1 - Joe Haden Returns to Cover A.J. Green: Usually, I try to have all of these key points talk about the opposing team's current situation, while leaving out the Browns in the equation. Given the fact that these two teams have faced each other already, the return of Joe Haden is too big of a story to bring up. When Andy Dalton torched the Browns' secondary in Week 2, it was clear that the unit did not have a player who could stop the opposing team's momentum with something like a big third-down pass breakup.
Green is having a great sophomore season, with 493 yards receiving and four touchdowns. He is averaging about 30 more yards per game than he did a season ago. When Green faced the Browns in Week 2, he had 7 catches for 58 yards and 1 touchdown. Even though Dimitri Patterson is out, Haden is the glue that keeps the secondary together. Both guys -- Green and Haden -- should have key plays in the game. The big question is this: when it is crunch time in the fourth quarter, who gets the last laugh? In 2011, it was Green on both occasions, no matter how "good of a job" Haden might have done the majority of the game. Even if Haden does a good job, sometimes, Green can just make the better play.
#2 - Struggling on the Ground: When the Bengals added BenJarvus Green-Ellis, they knew what they were getting: a back who could fight for the tough yardage with superior ball security. Against the Browns in Week 2, he only had 21 carries for 75 yards. In three games since then, Green-Ellis is only averaging 2.57 yards per carry. He has also fumbled three times (losing two of them) in that span. The Bengals need a chance of pace back to compliment him, and they thought they were getting their main guy back last week when Bernard Scott ran for 40 yards on 5 carries.
Unfortunately, Scott suffered a knee injury and is not out for the season. The Bengals' other two backs are Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman. Leonard has been more of a receiving back in the past, not a rusher. Peerman could be in line for some carries, but it's tough to tell what he can bring to the table. If there was a team the Browns' defense could have wanted to face to get back on track in their run defense after last week's performance against the Giants, it would be the Bengals.
#3 - Adam Jones in the Return Game: On both kickoffs and punt returns, CB Adam Jones and WR Brandon Tate rotate reps on kickoff and punt returns. Back in Week 2, it was Jones' 81-yard return, which included a ton of missed tackles, that forced the Browns into catchup mode the rest of the way. Since that game, neither Jones nor Tate have broken the big return, and Cleveland's coverage units have started to get better. The Browns should not be afraid to punt the ball to Jones, considering that he was only on the highlight reel for missed tackles versus superior moves in the first place.
And now, here's a random mascot returning a kick instead of Cincy:
#4 - False Impression of Improving Against the Run: After getting torched by the Browns and the Redskins offense in Weeks 2 and 3, the Bengals' defense has received some praise for "shutting down" Maurice-Jones Drew and Reggie Bush over the past two weeks. Nobody should be praised for shutting down the Jaguars' offense; with Blaine Gabbert under center, that is a given. Stopping Bush is a little more impressive, but their real test will come against the Browns, after what Trent Richardson did to them a few weeks back. One of the keys to the Bengals' "turnaround" over the past two weeks has been LB Ray Maualuga, whose play has improved considerably, according to reports. Maualuga is the guy who challenged Richardson back in Week 2.
#5 - Unexpected Pressure: Digging through the stat sheets, I was stunned to hear that the Bengals were ranked first in the NFL with 18 sacks. Leading the charge is DT Geno Atkins. He has six sacks on the season, and the only game he didn't have a sack came against the Browns. DE Michael Johnson has five sacks and is on pace to shatter his career high for a season. One of those sacks game against Cleveland in Week 2. The Browns are coming off one of their best pass-protecting games of the season -- they allowed no sacks and just two quarterback hits against the Giants -- but they need to keep it up to neutralize Atkins and Johnson for 60 minutes.
Lastly as a side note, there's a chance the Browns could always get "bad Andy Dalton" on gameday, too: