On Thursday, the(2-6) take on the (7-0) in Week 9 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
|OL||The Bengals' starting offensive line is as follows: LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Clint Boling, C Russell Bodine, RG Kevin Zeitler, and RT Andre Smith. Whitworth is a great left tackle, just a couple of shades behind Joe Thomas. Cincinnati gets strong play from both of the guard positions, but Bodine and Smith have been moderate liabilities as center and right tackle. Smith is out this week with a concussion, so veteran tackle Eric Winston should fill in.
Fans don't want to believe it, but PFF continues to praise the Browns' offensive line, ranking their performance second in the NFL. My counter-arguments to the number of sacks and struggling running game would be this: the sacks pile up because Cleveland eventually become too one-dimensional, and many of the run game issues have been due to the running backs or incredibly poor blocking from the tight ends and fullback, so much so that a free rusher gets in the backfield every time. Fortunately, Joe Thomas is still with the club for this game (and the season), too.
|DL||In the Browns' Thursday victory over the Bengals last year, Phil Taylor made a glorious return and was a major factor in stopping the Bengals up front. Then, he got injured again and is no longer on an NFL roster. Can Danny Shelton, who has made steady progress but been subject to ridicule because of the rest of the team's defensive struggles, break out for a similar impact?
While Cleveland is relying on promise, the Bengals already have the established talent up front. The Bengals' starting defensive line consists of Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, and Michael Johnson. Dunlap has 6.5 sacks on the year and is among the best in the league at pressuring quarterbacks. The Browns faced one of the best interior defenders in the game a few weeks ago in Aaron Donald of the Rams, but Atkins is right on par with him.
|LB||The Bengals' depth chart is not indicative of who is playing at linebacker, in part due to several injuries or recent comebacks. Vontaze Burfict made his season debut last week against the Steelers, and although the team took his reps light, he was effective and had to play more due to inside linebacker Rey Maualuga suffering a calf injury. Maualuga is questionable this week, which might mean more reps for Vincent Rey, who actually leads the team in tackles. A.J. Hawk and Emmanuel Lamur will also see some reps in the rotation. When Lamur is in the game, the Browns will try to get Duke Johnson or Gary Barnidge on him, as he struggles in coverage.
In the limited plays Barkevious Mingo plays, I remain impressed with what I see. If Cleveland wanted a third-round pick for him, why don't they dedicate more reps to him already? Sorry for sounding like a broken record. We're all frustrated with Paul Kruger's inability to get to the quarterback, but I'm sure it's killing him with every snap too. You have to wonder if he is in his own head to an extent.
|DB||The Browns will be without Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, and Jordan Poyer for this week's game, so that means Ibraheim Campbell has been jettisoned to the top of the depth chart at strong safety. It will be refreshing to finally see what one of our rookie draft picks in the secondary has to offer. I expect Pierre Desir to start in Haden's place; I think Johnson Bademosi relieved Haden last week because of the team's week-of-practice philosophy.
The Bengals' secondary features Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones as the starting cornerbacks, and George Iloka and Reggie Nelson as the starting safeties. While Jones has been one of the league's top cornerbacks this year, Kirkpatrick has been one of the worst and is the matchup the Browns will most want to exploit. Cincinnati gets above average play from both of their safeties. Leon Hall will serve as the team's nickelback.
I'd really like to buy in to the Bengals' prime time struggles, but they look like a different team this year and have come through in several late-game pressure situations against Seattle and Pittsburgh. With the Browns missing players in their secondary again and still failing to stop the run and generate a pass rush regularly, Cleveland's hopes are squarely on the shoulders of QB Johnny Manziel. Manziel won't lead the offense to an embarrassing performance like last year, but you can't expect the guy to pull a Houdini act in this type of game.
Cincinnati Bengals 27, Cleveland Browns 14
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