In two weeks the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Cleveland to take on the Brows in the NFL’s version of the “Battle of Ohio”. Here’s a breakdown of the upcoming season opener.
When: 1:00 PM EST, Sunday, September 11, 20111
Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium (Stadium Information)
What: Major League Baseball has their version of the “Battle of Ohio”, with the Cincinnati Reds of the National League and the Cleveland Indians of the American League set to do battle every year on the diamond. (Indians lead the series 36-35 over the Reds)
The Reds and Indians seem to enjoy a friendly rivalry, but the annual battles between the Browns and Bengals are anything but.
Both of Ohio’s pro football teams play in the fierce AFC North of the NFL. The series has seen both teams battle each other to stay out of the cellar more often than not as of late. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have ruled the division in recent years, although both the Browns and Bengals have made pushes for the playoffs this decade
One team is finally starting to make a name for themselves around the NFL, the other has come crashing back to reality after a short stint at the top.
This year’s game between the rising Cleveland Browns and the spiraling Cincinnati Bengals will mark the 76th meeting between the two teams from Ohio. The Bengals lead the all-time series, 39-36. The home team won each of last year’s games.
Both teams will be looking to set the tone early for their perspective seasons. The Browns need a victory to prove they’re a team on the rise. A victory could also mean that injuries won’t be as big of a question mark for the Browns, who have potentially 7 key contributors questionable for the season opener.
For the Bengals, a victory would go a long way for a team that’s trying to move past a disastrous off-season in which their long-time starting quarterback, Carson Palmer, announced his retirement after team owner Mike Brown refused to trade the former star. Brown didn’t stop there, however. He also traded away their star wide receiver, Chad Ochocinco, to the New England Patriots, and let stud cornerback, Jonathan Joseph walk to sign with the Houston Texans.
The team’s television coverage is sure to take a hit. With Ochocinco no longer in town, the term “Blackout” is sure to become a hot commodity in Cincinnati homes. Number 85 was always willing to foot the bill for the remainder of the tickets needed to be bought in order for the team to avoid the league’s “Blackout Rule”.
My prediction for the game has the Browns starting the season 1-0, sending the Bengals back to the Queen City to face a long season of blackouts and questions about the organizations future.
Final Score: Browns 34 – Bengals 10
How: Both teams are extremely young on both sides of the ball, especially at quarterback. For the Browns, Colt McCoy is only in his second year as a pro, and is in his first season as the team’s full-time starter.
When Carson Palmer let ownership know that he would retire before he’d ever play another game for the Bengals, owner Mike Brown didn’t even blink. Instead, the organization drafted former TCU star, Andy Dalton in the third-round of this year’s NFL Draft.
Dalton will get the nod as the opening day starter, the first time a rookie has started a game behind center for the Bengals since Palmer started 13 games for the team in 2004.
The Browns defense may have to battle through injuries to win the game, but facing a rookie QB with relatively young weapons should benefit the defense well.
Look for the offense – led by QB Colt McCoy and RB Peyton Hillis – to have an effective game through the air and on the ground, while the defense – led by DT Phil Taylor and MLB D’Qwell Jackson – expose the inexperienced Bengals offense, en route to an impressive opening day – and home – victory.
Keys To The Game
The Browns must get pressure on rookie QB, Andy Dalton…
First-year Browns defensive coordinator, Dick Jauron, has showed throughout the preseason that he is not afraid to blitz.
This will certainly benefit staring MLB D’Qwell Jackson (who is my pick to have a breakout year) and it should benefit a young, but talented, Browns secondary.
For the first time in a long time, the Browns have a legitimate front four on the defensive line. Led by rookie defensive tackle, Phil Taylor, (who is my pick for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year) and veteran defensive end, Jayme Mitchell, the young-and-talented defensive line has shown flashes of dominance this preseason.
Rookie defensive end Jabaal Sheard and last years team’s questionable defensive team leader, DT Ahtyba Rubin, fill out the remaining starting spots on the front four.
If the front four can get consistent pressure on Dalton, it’s sure to lead to mistakes by the Bengals QB. Pressure up front will allow linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to roam freely on defense, and corners Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown to make plays in the secondary.
Look for the front four to dominate the line of scrimmage, and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron to use his timely blitzes to confuse Dalton, as the defense limits the Bengals to 10 points.
The offense must capitalize on turnovers and good field position…
The Browns defense is going to get pressure on Dalton, and turnovers are going to happen.
With one of the better special teams unit (despite their awful performance in Philadelphia) in the league, the Browns are going to give QB Colt McCoy and the offense decent field position throughout the game.
The question, then, becomes – what does the offense do with those opportunities?
Cleveland fans have become accustomed to seeing the Browns settle for field goals, or worse – turn the ball over on downs, thanks to former Head Coach Eric Mangini.
That absolutely can not happen this year for Pat Shurmur’s new west coast offense, and I don’t think it will.
Despite the lack of off-season acquisitions, second-year QB Colt McCoy does have some weapons on offense. Even with injuries to key positions on the field – WR, OL, and now RB – the Browns should be able to move the ball effectively – at least against the Bengals.
McCoy did everything he could this off-season to try and understand the new west coast offense being implemented this year by Pat Shurmur, (from “Camp Colt” sessions, to a study session with future Hall of Famer, Brett Favre), and the hard work appears to be paying off.
So far this preseason, McCoy has looked as if he has a firm grip on this offense. He looks like a leader on the field, and his accuracy has been on point. The new offense tends to include everyone playing the skilled positions, so look for rookies Greg Little (WR) and Owen Marecic (FB) to be among McCoy’s favorite targets.
Veterans Brian Robiskie (WR), Mohammed Massaquoi (WR), Evan Moore (TE), Ben Watson (TE) and Peyton Hillis (RB) should all see targets through the air. Hillis should get just enough touches on the ground to wear down the Bengals front seven.
Jordan Norwood (WR), is probably going to see a lot of reps at the slot position. You can probably expect a few short passes to Norwood, who appears to be the team’s YAC (yards after catch) go-to-guy.
The 34 points I predicted the offense to score may be a bit of a stretch, but only if the offense can’t capitalize on opportunities off of turnovers and field position.
Settling for field goals could make this game closer than expected.
Whether it’s Jordan Norwood, Buster Skrine or Josh Cribbs – they must hold onto the ball when returning kicks…
Aside from a block field goal on their second series of the game against the Eagles, much of the special team troubles stemmed from the inability of the return guys to hold on to the ball. Securing punts and making the right decisions on kick-offs (return, or not to return – that is the question) is typically critical in setting up the offense.
I don’t look for a repeat performance from the return guys. Cribbs hasn’t seen much time in the return game due to injury and an expanded role at WR. Norwood looks to be the guy, and should be a good one if he can hold onto the ball.
And finally, the Browns must overcome early season injuries…
Whether it’s due to the four-month long NFL lockout, or just a string of bad luck – that has all the makings of a “Madden Curse” story – the Browns have been hit hard with the injury bug.
So far seven key contributors on both sides of the ball – most of them starters – have missed some sort of time due to injury.
On offense, projected starter Mohammed Massaquoi (WR) arrived to camp with a boot on his foot. Eric Steinbach (LG) was expected to start on the offensive line for the Browns, but is reportedly lost for the year due to a back injury.
Even key reserve Brandon Jackson (RB) has been hit with injury. Against Detroit, Jackson left the game with an apparent turf-toe injury. However, it has since been reported that Jackson will miss up to 8 weeks due to the toe injury. Jackson started 13 games last year for the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
Defense has seen it’s fair share of injuries as well.
One of the stars on last year’s defense, T.J. Ward (SS) has missed time with injury, as well as the team’s first free agent signing – Usama Young (FS).
Starting at one of the outside linebackers spots, was supposed to be veteran Chris Gocong. Instead, Maluka Maiava has filled in for Gocong, and done a fair job in his place.
Linebacker Titus Brown, who was expected to see extended playing time as a back-up, left the Philadelphia game earlier than expected and is now expected to miss some time with a high ankle sprain.
If the Browns can do just enough to overcome all those injuries – at least this week against the Bengals – then the “Shurmur Era” should get off to a hot start in Cleveland.
With the defense poised to have a big day, the offenses’ ability to capitalize on field position and turnovers and rising above the injury question marks, the Browns should cruise to victory, 34-10.
How They Match Up
QB: Browns, Colt McCoy (B+) vs. Bengals, Andy Dalton (C)
The edge in this match-up goes to the Browns. Dalton is starting is first game as a pro and in a rivalry game to boot. We’ll see how valuable those “Camp Colt” sessions prove to be.
RB: Browns, Peyton Hillis (A) vs. Bengals, Cedric Benson (B+)
Both guys are coming off solid seasons from the year before. Benson has been a question mark since his rookie season with the Bears. Hillis won’t carry the ball as much in Shurmur’s WCO, but should be a huge contributor out of the backfield on pass plays. I like Hillis of the Browns over Benson of the Bengals.
WR: Browns, Brian Robiskie – Josh Cribbs – Greg Little (B) vs.
WR: Bengals, Jerome Simpson – A.J. Green – Andrew Caldwell (B+)
There’s sure to be other plays punching time in at the wide receivers position for both teams, but I think it’s fair to say that a combination of these six will see “starter” time for their perspective teams. Little and Green are rookies, but both have show tremendous upside in the preseason. Based on Green’s “celebrity status” – I give a slight edge to the Bengals in this one.
TE: Browns, Ben Watson & Evan Moore (A) vs. Bengals Jermaine Gresham & Chase Coffman (B)
The Browns are going to have one of the better tight end duos in the NFL this year. Behind Watson and Moore, Jordan Cameron awaits. Watson led the Browns in receptions last season, and Moore is a red-zone nightmare for opposing teams. This one, hands down, goes to the Browns.
OL: Browns, Starting 5 (A-/B+) vs. Bengals, Starting 5 (B)
Jason Pinkston (rookie LG) and Shawn Lauavo (second-year RB) are the youngest guys on the starting line for the Browns. The Bengals sport a veteran laden offensive line, but they don’t have a Joe Thomas caliber player to help.
DL: Browns, Staring Front Four (A) vs. Bengals, Starting Front Four (C)
The Bengals best defensive lineman, in my opinion, is listed among the second-team guys. (Carlos Dunlap). Good luck running the ball up the middle against Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor, and Mitchell and Sheard should get enough pressure on the outside for the Browns. Give me the young guys for the Browns any day over the Bengals front four.
LB: Browns, Kaluka Maiava – D’Qwell Jackson – Scott Fujita (B) vs.
LB: Bengals, Manny Lawson – Ray Maualuga – Thomas Howard (C)
Scott Fujita brings a veteran presence to the Browns defense, and D’Qwell Jackson is going to be phenomenal in the Browns new 4-3 defense. Maualuga has been disappointing for the Bengals so far. I’d take Jackson & Co. from the Browns over whoever the Bengals throw out there, any day.
DB: Browns, Joe Haden – T.J. Ward – Mike Adams – Sheldon Brown (A-) vs.
DB: Bengals, Nate Clements – Chris Crocker – Reggie Nelson – Leon Hall (B)
The Browns sport one of the more young and talented secondaries in the entire NFL. Clements is aging, although, Hall is a Pro Bowl caliber corner for the Bengals. Ward should be healthy enough by the opener to start, and is as physical of a safety as they come. I like the direction the secondary is heading for the Browns, the Bengals let their best corner Jonathan Joseph walk this off-season – ouch.
P: Browns, Richmond McGee (C) vs. Bengals, Kevin Huber (B+)
Huber is a solid punter for the Bengals, while McGee is a rookie replacing last year’s starter, Reggie Hodges. McGee has been a pleasant surprise in the preseason, but has yet to prove anything in a meaningful game. ‘Eh, it’s just the punter – give it to the Bengals.
K: Browns, Phil Dawson (A) vs. Bengals, Mike Nugent (B)
Nugent was the best kicker in the nation during his time at Ohio State, but has battled injuries throughout his career in the NFL. Dawson, the only remaining member of the original ‘99 team left in Cleveland, has been nothing short of excellent for the Browns. Gimme Dawson.
KR/PR: Browns, Josh Cribbs – Buster Skrine, KR – Josh Cribbs – Jordan Norwood, PR (A) vs.
KR/PR: Bengals, Bernard Scott – Andre Caldwell, KR – Quan Crosby – Jordan Shipley, PR (B+)
The return game is always critical during games and the Browns lay claim to one of the best return guys in the league in Josh Cribbs. Expect to see Norwood – who is going to be a star – returning more punts than Cribbs. Whoever is back there for the Browns, I like better than anyone on the Bengals roster.
*Note: Players used in comparison are projected starters, per each team’s website.
Browns: Evan Moore, TE
Moore has been seen receiving touchdown passes in nearly every team scrimmage for the Browns this off-season. So far in the preseason, Moore has 6 catches for 33 yards – but 2 TDs. Teams often condense their playbooks in the preseason, look for McCoy to look for Moore often, especially in the red zone.
Projected Stats: 5 catches, 70 yards with 1 TD.
Bengals: Cedric Benson, RB
Benson’s touches may be limited as the Bengals enter “comeback” mode early in the game, but look for Benson to be the recipient of a few desperation passes from Dalton, with all the pressure the Browns are expected to bring. The Browns have not done a great job covering backs out of the backfield so far this preseason and it could lead to a big receiving game for Benson.
Projected Stats: 12 rushes, 68 yards 0 TD. 4 catches, 28 yards with 1 TD.
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