By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, 1 p.m., in FirstEnergy Stadium
Last game: Defeated Green Bay Packers, 34-30, Sept. 15, in Cincinnati.
Coach: Marvin Lewis, 81-85-1, 11th year.
Series record: Bengals lead, 42-37.
Last meeting: Browns won, 34-24, Oct. 14, in Cleveland.
League rankings: Offense is 16th overall (21st rushing, 11th passing), defense is 11th (11th rushing, 14th passing) and turnover differential is zero.
Offensive overview: Third-year QB Andy Dalton is sitting in quite a cockpit. He has an elite WR in A.J. Green, who frequently bails him out by soaring above defenders for random throws. He has a decent pair of complementary WRs in Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. He has a pair of play-making receiver TEs in Jermaine Gresham and first-round rookie Tyler Eifert. He has a banger RB in BenJarvus Green-Ellis to ice a game late and a rising, dynamic play-maker in second-round rookie Giovani Bernard. Coordinator Jay Gruden has emulated the Patriots of last year by shifting his passing attack to the two tight ends. Eifert can line up anywhere. Bernard, who is on the verge of taking over as the feature back, gives Dalton another receiving target who can turn a short pass into a big gain. In his third season, Dalton is benefitting from this loaded lineup. His completion percentage (66.7) and yards per attempt (7.52) are at career highs. The big plays on offense no longer are restricted to Green beating a corner on a fly route.
Defensive overview: Coordinator Mike Zimmer’s front four is anchored by two sequoia-sized ends with edge rush quickness – Carlos Dunlap (who is 6-6) and Michael Johnson (6-7). The tackles, led by Geno Atkins, are excellent vs. the run. Ex-Steeler James Harrison provides more rush in the base package; he comes off on obvious passing downs. In nickel, linebackers Rey Maualuga and rising star Vontaze Burfict patrol underneath. The secondary is still loaded with former No. 1 picks. Adam Jones comes in off the bench to play one outside CB spot, allowing excellent cover specialist Leon Hall to slip inside, with Terence Newman, another former first-round pick, manning the other CB spot. This unit is almost as loaded as the offense.
Special teams overview: Kicker Mike Nugent is coming off a game he’d like to forget – missed a field goal from 52 yards, had a PAT blocked and punched a kickoff out of bounds. The kickoff team ranks 28th in average drive start after kickoffs and are 21st in touchback percentage. Punter Kevin Huber is 14th in gross average (46.4 yards) and 10th in net (42.3). Brandon Tate has a kickoff return average of 25.6 yards. When they play catch-up and need a spark, Adam Jones always is a threat as a punt returner.
Players to watch:
1. WR A.J. Green: The smooth, 6-4, 207-pounder from Georgia has had some classic battles with former SEC rival Joe Haden already. In four games, Green has four TDs and averaged 19.1 yards on 18 receptions.
2. QB Andy Dalton: He is 2-1 in four starts against the Browns (left his first ever NFL start with an injury at halftime), completing 70 percent with eight TDs vs. four interceptions and a passer rating of 104.0.
3. LB James Harrison: This notorious Browns-nemesis outlasted his individual Cleveland victims over the years – Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs, Colt McCoy. A five-time Pro Bowler and former defensive player-of-the-year for the Steelers, he starts at strongside linebacker but, at 35, receives limited snaps, mostly on running downs.
Injury report: CB Brandon Ghee (concussion) and OG Mike Pollak (knee) are out. CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring), DB Leon Hall (hamstraing), CB Adam Jones (abdominal) may be limited. OT Anthony Collins (knee) missed last week’s game.
Small world: Bengals President Mike Brown is the son of Browns founding coach Paul Brown … PK Mike Nugent attended Ohio State … LB James Harrison is an Akron native and attended Kent State … TE Alex Smith played for the Browns in 2010-12 … RB Cedric Peerman played for the Browns in 2009.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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