This week, the Cleveland Browns (2-9) take on the Cincinnati Bengals (9-2) in Week 13 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
Andy Dalton put on an impressive performance against the Browns' defense when these teams met several weeks ago on Thursday Night Football. He took advantage of the Browns' coverage with read-option type pass plays and just had a better command of a Bengals offense than I've been accustom to. The postseason will still ultimately determine Dalton's legacy as a quarterback, but right now, he is not getting in their way for regular season games and he's been the best quarterback in the division in 2015.
Head coach Mike Pettine has decided to start Austin Davis at quarterback this week. Marvin Lewis can probably only laugh at how every time he faces the Browns, a different quarterback is under center. Davis led a nice touchdown drive against the Ravens last week, but let's not also forget that he was nearly picked off on the ensuing drive. This will be an audition game for Davis to see whether he is a viable option to start moving forward. If he earns that right, then the larger body of work could enter him in the quarterback mix for 2016.
Nothing has changed for Cincinnati's running back situation since Week 9. Jeremy Hill (3.5 YPC) is still trying to get his feet out of quicksand, and Giovani Bernard (5.1 YPC) remains the more explosive back as both players still maintain an equal distribution of reps. For those are don't remember, Bernard is by far the more threatening option as a receiving back too.
It'll be interesting to see whether Isaiah Crowell can have a bounce-back game against the Bengals. If you recall, back in Week 9, Crowell had a pretty good first half against Cincinnati, running the ball 9 times for 42 yards. In the second half, he had 1 carry for -4 yards, finishing the game with 10 carries for 38 yards. Since that game, Crowell has 13 carries for 2 yards. That's not a typo. Joel Bitonio might be back to help with the ground game this week, but we just can't rely on Cleveland to run the ball. Duke Johnson can at least do more damage out of the backfield as a receiving option, which makes him the more intriguing option. Lastly, if Glenn Winston is always on the active roster but never plays, when will he ever get the chance to play?
|Cincinnati's go-to threats this week will be their wide receivers, as Tyler Eifert, who is the leading tight end in the NFL right now and had three touchdowns against the Browns in Week 9, is doubtful to play. That means a lot more action at the receiver position for A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu. Given the Browns' horrid secondary play this year, Dalton should just step back and chuck it deep to any of those receivers, and he'll score a couple of times.
Travis Benjamin was held to 3 catches for 22 yards the last time these two teams met, but he'll remain a threat to stretch the field. Brian Hartline was inactive for the last meeting, but has secured 14 passes over his past two games. With Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel both out with concussions, the Browns' remaining receiving options are Marlon Moore, Dwayne Bowe, Terrelle Pryor, and Darius Jennings.
Moore will definitely be active, but because of Bowe's low usage last week, I think he'll also be inactive. Pryor will probably be inactive because he hasn't been with the club since training camp. I could see Jennings being the No. 3 receiver, ahead of Moore, because he probably worked with Austin Davis often considering their positions on the depth chart. Gary Barnidge only had 2 catches for 35 yards against Cincinnati in Week 9, but that came with Manziel under center and their chemistry wasn't quite there.
|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. Eric Winston starting for Andre Smith the last time these teams met because Smith was dealing with a concussion. Whitworth and both of the guards will have stellar play, with Bodine and Smith being moderate liabilities as center and right tackle. They shouldn't have issues against a Cleveland defense that can't even take advantage of teams that are missing three starting offensive linemen (San Diego and Baltimore).
Cleveland's offensive line let Josh McCown take a beating last week, but much of the pressure seemed to come from the area of Cameron Erving, who has been filling in for the injured Joel Bitonio at left guard. The Browns just waived insurance lineman Darrian Miller on Saturday, which is a good sign that Bitonio will start again versus Cincinnati. I like the Browns' individual linemen as individuals, but until they start playing better as a cohesive unit or in the running game, they don't deserve a favorable ranking.
|DL||Nothing has changed since Week 9 -- the Bengals' starting defensive line consists of Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, and Michael Johnson. Dunlap leads the team with 8.5 sacks and is one of the best in the league at pressuring quarterbacks. Atkins has turned things up a notch too, logging 4 sacks (he has 8 on the season) and 7 quarterback hits in his past 5 games.
Randy Starks might return to the lineup this week as he comes back from a knee injury, but he's been a relative non-factor all year. Desmond Bryant gets credit for still being the team's best defensive lineman, but his production won't jump off the page when nobody else in the front seven are making physically dominant plays, and that includes Danny Shelton, who appeared to be moved off the ball too much last week and played a role in the field goal that was blocked. Worse yet, he's not standing out against backup centers who are filling in for bad teams.
Karlos Dansby has two pick sixes this year. Each time, those plays gave Cleveland an uplifting lead, only for the defense to quickly allow a touchdown drive after that. How messed up is that? One of the things you have to fear most about this team (for the future) is their linebacker situation. Dansby is getting older, Christian Kirksey is nothing special, and Craig Robertson will be a free agent. Paul Kruger has been a bust this year, Nate Orchard is usually pretty invisible for all of the reps he's getting, Armonty Bryant is a hot-and-cold rotational player, and Barkevious Mingo is stuck in no-mans land.
The Bengals' rotation at linebacker is a bit out of whack right now. Vontaze Burfict is listed as probable, but is battling through an ankle and knee injury that might limit the workload he sees. Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey, Emmanuel Lamur, and A.J. Hawk will all see reps in the rotation, with Maualuga and Rey seeing more reps of that group.
|DB||The Browns will be without Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert, as both players are out with concussions. Cleveland will want to keep K'Waun Williams in the slot while game-planning for a game, so Tramon Williams should see A.J. Green most of the night. Either Pierre Desir, Charles Gaines, or Johnson Bademosi will be the other outside cornerback, depending on their week of practice. My money is on Gaines, due to Desir's rapid fall from grace.
The Bengals' secondary features Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones as the starting cornerbacks, George Iloka and Reggie Nelson as the starting safeties, and Leon Hall as the nickelback. Jones, Hall, and Iloka all have injuries they are battling, and each of them are listed as questionable. They might all play, but given how limited they were in practice this week, I have a suspicion that at least one of them will take a seat this week.
How can I give the Browns their weekly special teams advantage after last week's debacle? Travis Coons also missed his first field goal of the year, coming via a block on his first attempt from beyond 50 yards this year. Mike Nugent is 15-of-18 on the year, but doesn't try kicks from beyond 50 yards either. I'd say the kicker position is about a push.
Andy Lee finally gave the Browns a beautiful punt inside the 1 yard line last week, but the Browns' defense couldn't hold and allowed Baltimore to move down the field. Kevin Huber, the Bengals' punter, is around the league average in terms of performance.
Brandon Tate and Adam Jones will split reps on both kickoffs and punt returns. The Browns will roll with Travis Benjamin on punt returns, but I'd expect Marlon Moore to handle kickoff returns. The just-activate Darius Jennings is also a candidate to handle kickoff returns.
This might be the first time I've ever given a team advantages across the board. The Browns have indeed hit rock bottom. Cleveland's offense is still respectable on an overall scale due to their passing game, but the team has yet another quarterback under center this week. The defensive efforts remain poor in just about every area -- tackling, run defense, pass defense, and pressure. Cincinnati had no issues with the Browns in their last go-around, so unless they shoot themselves in the foot over and over, they'll improve to 10-2.
Cincinnati Bengals 31, Cleveland Browns 14
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