- In 13 games last year, Andy Dalton was sacked 20 times and threw for 25 touchdown passes. This year, in 12 games, he's already been sacked 32 times and has just 14 touchdown passes. The Bengals offense doesn’t have the same level of talent that it did a year ago, and although Dalton is not costing Cincinnati games, he hasn’t been able to deliver that little extra “oomph” that the team could use week to week.
- Last week was encouraging for Bengals fans; our affiliate called it one of the best games of Dalton’s entire career. He completed 74% of his passes for 332 yards and 2 touchdowns, and was not sacked, in a victory over the Eagles. Dalton was efficient when he faced the Browns earlier this season, completing 68% of his passes for 308 yards and 2 touchdowns.
- I’m intrigued to see Robert Griffin III in action again. Here is what I remember: during the preseason, he had some really nice deep passes that were completed, and he looked really fast when he decided to take off a couple of times. In Week 1, the read-option just didn’t work and he was very inaccurate before the unfortunate shoulder injury he suffered on the sideline. Griffin is very much a wildcard heading into this week, after not having played in a game for several months.
- With Giovani Bernard out, the Bengals have not been able to get Jeremy Hill going the past two weeks, where he's run for 54 yards on 35 carries (1.54 YPC). His best game of the year was against Cleveland, when he had 9 carries for 168 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run.
- Bernard’s injury has paved the way for Rex Burkhead to get some looks in the backfield. In the past two weeks, he has 13 carries for 67 yards (5.15 YPC). Burkhead is a good change-of-pace back who could make some money in a contract year if he finishes out the season strong.
- Isaiah Crowell had 16 carries for 44 yards (2.8 YPC) against the Giants. That’s not great, but the committment to the running game for three quarters kept our quarterbacks from taking so many hits. When the running game was abandoned in the fourth quarter, the Giants’ pass-rushers teed off. Crowell has had one decent statistical rushing day since Week 4, and that came in Week 7 against the Bengals when he had 12 carries for 63 yards and 1 touchdown.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- Without A.J. Green, the Bengals' starting receivers are Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd. LaFell caught 4 passes for 83 yards and 1 touchdown the last time these two teams met, but he's a borderline No. 2 receiver in the NFL. Boyd, a second-round pick in this year's draft, has 42 catches for 477 yards and 1 touchdown on the year.
- Cody Core, a sixth-round pick, saw about half the snaps last week and caught 2 passes for 58 yards. The good news for Cincinnati is that Tyler Eifert is back in a groove. In his six games back, he has 23 catches for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns.
- If Boyd and Corey Coleman and then Eifert and Gary Barnidge form a push in terms of the advantage, then Terrelle Pryor and Andrew Hawkins give Cleveland the edge over LaFell and company.
- It's hard to say what Griffin's chemistry will be with Cleveland's group. In Week 1, Barnidge and Hawkins combined for 0 catches. Coleman caught that prayer between three defenders in the second half, but was otherwise not involved. One rumor is that we could see Rashard Higgins receive an opportunity for some more playing time. Seth DeValve’s workload also increased a tick before the bye.
- The Bengals’ starting offensive line includes LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Clint Boling, C Russell Bodine, RG Kevin Zeitler, and then a time share at right tackle. Cedric Ogbuehi, a first-round pick a year ago, was recently benched in favor of a time share between veterans Eric Winston and Jake Fisher. Whitworth and Zeitler are solid in general, but the rest of the line struggles to open running lanes.
- It’s sad that Cincinnati gets the edge on the offensive line, but that’s the case when you realize what Cleveland is now throwing out there. LT Joe Thomas remains an elite player, but now you’re down to RT Austin Pasztor being your second-best starter, and he might not even start for any other teams in the NFL.
- The rest of Cleveland’s line will shape out like this: LG Spencer Drango, C Cameron Erving, and RG Jonathan Cooper. Cooper will be an intriguing piece to watch as he replaces former starter John Greco. The former first-round pick of the Cardinals was basically a bust with them, but maybe he’ll find something here in Cleveland.
- The Bengals run a 4-3 defense. Their starting defensive line includes DE Carlos Dunlap, NT Domata Peko, DT Geno Atkins, and DE Michael Johnson. Peko will split time with NT Pat Sims, but the rest of the starters will be on the field for three quarters of the snaps. Dunlap continues to produce as the team’s best edge rusher, as he’s now up to 7 sacks and 20 quarterback hits on the year. Johnson and Atkins have combined for 7.5 sacks.
- The Browns seem committed to a 4-2-5 type of defense now, which sees DE Carl Nassib, DE Jamie Meder, NT Danny Shelton, and DE Emmanuel Ogbah in the game for most of the action. It's a bit odd to think that Shelton is third on the team in tackles (45), and Ogbah is right behind him with 41 tackles. That'll happen when you rotate between five safeties throughout the year. Ogbah started to turn up the heat before the bye, but I don’t know how much like he’ll have against LT Andrew Whitworth.
- The Bengals’ primary linebackers are Vontaze Burfirct and Karlos Dansby, and they are really the only two guys the team feels they can count on. Vincent Rey will see some action if necessary, and then Rey Maualuga has remarkably just fallen off of playing time completely.
- Cleveland is in a similar boat to where Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey are their two workhorse linebackers now, and they only trust one other guy (Demario Davis) in spot duty.
- In just four games, Collins has 34 tackles, good for 9th on the team. Before the end of the year, he'll probably be third on the team in tackles, despite only having half a season with the club. It would be nice to see him get more involved with rushing the passer, but I think he’s being counted on as a reliable safety valve to help stop some of the big plays teams were getting to running backs and tight ends. Without a surplus of talent at both ends, it’s one or the other, and Cleveland is choosing to sacrifice his pass rushing abilities.
- The Bengals’ starting cornerbacks are Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick, with Josh Shaw playing the nickel role. George Iloka is at strong safety and Shawn Williams is at free safety. Kirkpatrick, Iloka, and Williams have combined for six interceptions over the past six weeks or so. Overall, there isn’t a glaring weakness one could point to here.
- Cleveland’s starting cornerbacks will be Joe Haden and Jamar Taylor. We’ll see Ed Reynolds in one of the starting safety spots, but the other one is up-in-the-air since Derrick Kindred broke his ankle. I think we’ll see Tramon Williams play a cornerback/safety role, with Briean Boddy-Calhoun fulfilling a nickel role (outside, with Taylor moving inside).
- Mike Nugent is 22-of-27 on regular field goals. That's not so bad, right? What is bad is the fact that he is 21-of-26 on extra points! Compare that to last year, when he was 48-of-49 on extra points, and you can see the big difference. Cody Parkey isn’t exactly a home run for the Browns either, but I think Nugent’s struggles exceed his.
- Britton Colquitt still has the edge in net average vs. Kevin Huber (40.8 for Colquitt, 38.9 for Huber), but Huber's overall average is a hair ahead of Colquitt's. There is no distinct edge at punter.
- WR Alex Erickson is taking the lead on kick and punt returns for the Bengals now. Cleveland will seemingly stick with either Duke Johnson or Joe Haden on punt returns.
This year, we are listing predictions for multiple staff members here at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I am interested in watching what Robert Griffin III can bring to the table, and the Bengals, despite their win last week, should still be ripe for the picking given their offensive struggles. However, I also have to ask myself how Griffin can survive or have time behind a line where I only have faith in Joe Thomas.
Cincinnati’s defense does not allow a lot of damage through the air, and because of what Kevin Hogan did to them last time around, I think they will be extra-prepared for any read-option stuff that Griffin attempts. I also fear that some of the stabilization we saw at safety will evaporate with Derrick Kindred’s injury. Cleveland will stay within range into the fourth quarter before falling behind by a second possession off of a field goal.” Bengals 26, Browns 17.
Matt Wood: “I actually think this one is close. RG3 makes a few plays and the Bengals really struggle without Green. Protection once again breaks down up front for the offense as some late turnovers make this one look more one-sided than it was.” Bengals 31, Browns 17.
Jon Stinchcomb: “If the Browns are going to escape the season with at least one win, this is the week to do it. But I still can't find enough reasons to pick them. The Bengals should have enough on offense to crush the putrid Browns defense. At this point, "moral victories" can be found in just finish a game healthy.” Bengals 20, Browns 10.
Josh Finney: “RG3 doesn't see the 4th quarter, and spends the first two throwing dink routes and fleeing the "pocket" but we get a garbage TD with Jod Keslown to make it look less hilarious.” Bengals 27, Browns 16.
rufio: “Browns come out on fire, with RG3 connecting in the deep passing game. The Bengals answer steadily but not as emphatically. Then RG3 gets hit and injures his other shoulder, putting him out for the rest of the year. The Browns do nothing on offense for the rest of the game, and the Bengals complete a slow but steady comeback to win. I weep.” Bengals 31, Browns 21.
Dan Lalich: “After the Bengals come storming out early collecting a field goal and safety in the first quarter, the Browns defense shuts them down for the rest of the game through a series of stupidly lucky turnovers/sacks/penalties or something. The offense manages to hit a big play to Pryor, tacking on a two point conversion to get to a three point lead. They grab a field goal late in the game off of one of the aforementioned turnovers.” Browns 11, Bengals 5.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below!