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Bengals vs. Browns: Getting to Know the Enemy With Cincy Jungle

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Scott Bantel from Cincy Jungle exchanged five questions with us, discussing how Bengals fans have reacted to Cleveland's 5-3 start, whether Andy Dalton has struggled without Jay Gruden, and more.

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This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Cincinnati Bengals. To help preview this week's game, I reached out to Scott Bantel from Cincy Jungle and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!

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Joe: "The Browns stand at 5-3 through eight games for the first time since 2007. Are Bengals fans surprised at their rivals' success?"

Scott: "I think Bengals fans – along with many others – are surprised to see the Browns at 5-3 at the mid-way point. However, though many Bengals fans may be reluctant to admit, the Browns have a lot of talent and oh by the way, will be adding the 2013 leading receiver in just a few weeks. This is a Browns team that can play with (and beat) good NFL teams and they can no longer be taken lightly. While I believe the playoffs would still be a stretch for the Browns in 2014, I don’t think it is outlandish."

Joe: "Since the beginning of the Andy Dalton era in 2011, the Bengals have struggled in primetime games, with a 2-5 record in such games. The Bengals struggled heavily in a Sunday night loss to the Patriots on October 5, 43-17. Will the Bengals enter this game with something to prove?"

Scott: "Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis will downplay the Bengals Primetime struggles all week and will claim it is media driven, but you are 100% correct- under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals have a history of struggling in the big games – not just with Dalton. The Dalton aspect is tough to get a handle on because the guy has a record of 35-20-2 (.636) but his record in primetime is terrible.

Dalton has played poorly in some of those games, but he has also played well in some of the games (i.e. the Patriots game). In fact, the fans that sit on the sideline and refuse to buy into the Bengals, point to the Bengals primetime and playoff struggles - Dalton in particular. While I think the Bengals will want to prove their primetime struggles are an anomaly, I think they are going to be more focused on making sure the Browns don’t come in to Paul Brown Stadium and walk out with first place – a distinct possibility the way this Bengals team has played the last few weeks."

Joe: "Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has experienced an up and down season. In his last four games, Dalton has more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (4). Which Andy Dalton will we see on Thursday?"

Scott: "Dalton’s numbers this year are deceiving and are a result of two things: 1) scheme and 2) injuries. The Bengals new offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, runs the ball at a much higher rate than Jay Gruden did in his wide open offense. While Dalton’s touchdown numbers are down, that is in large part due to the Bengals leading the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns. Under Gruden, the Bengals threw down by the goal line – not the case under Hue Jackson. Second, is injuries.

Dalton has been without his top three receiving options for almost the entire season. AJ Green has been bothered all year by a big toe injury that has caused him to miss four of the Bengals eight games. The Bengals number two wide receiver, Marvin Jones, was placed on IR without playing a single down this season, and the Bengals pass catching tight end, Tyler Eifert, has played five total minutes in 2014. In fact, I would say Dalton is actually having his best and most consistent year as a pro. While he does have 5 interceptions and only 4 touchdowns over his last four games, Dalton does have 2 rushing touchdowns and at least 3 of those interceptions were not Dalton’s fault or were tip balls.

Dalton’s only poor game in 2014 has been the Indianapolis game where he was plagued by drops and terrible offensive line play. Because of the new offensive philosophy, Dalton is on pace for a career low in interceptions (12), turnovers (14) and attempts (496) all while on pace for career highs in completion percentage (64.9%), YPA (7.56) and QBR (57.3). When you consider the injuries he has had to overcome, those numbers become even more impressive, and I would expect to see a solid performance from Dalton on Thursday night."

Joe: "Jeremy Hill exploded on Sunday, rushing 24 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie has some serious explosiveness and speed. How much damage will he do to a struggling Browns rush defense?"

Scott: "Sunday was the first time the Bengals gave Hill a full load and he showed exactly why they picked him in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft. The Bengals run the ball 46.39% of the time, 7th in the NFL, and average 28.9 runs per game (t-10th). With Giovani Bernard out again on Thursday and the Browns featuring the 30th ranked run defense (tied with the Bengals), the Browns will see a lot of the big rookie running back. Unless the Browns get up big, Hill will likely get 30 touches on Thursday and that could spell trouble for the Browns rushing defense. The Browns give up 4.8 YPA and Hill averages 4.7 YPA and has 5 touchdowns on just 74 carries."

Joe: "The heart of the Bengals defense, Vontaze Burfict, will not be playing on Thursday. How will this affect Cincinnati's defense against a Browns offense that is dependent on establishing a running game?"

Scott: "Burfict is the heart and soul of this defense. Not only does he call the plays and get the defense lined up, he is also the emotional leader and his absence almost all year is one of the main reasons the Bengals defense – particularly their run defense – has struggled. Along with Burfict, the Bengals will also be without Rey Maualuga for the fourth straight game (hamstring) and Leon Hall (concussion). If the Browns running game is going to get healthy, this would be a likely game for them to do so."

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Thanks again to Scott for taking the time to answer my questions.