Matchup To Watch: Bengals Defensive End Michael Johnson Versus Browns Tackle Joe Thomas

Andy Lyons - Getty Images

In the first Bengals/Browns matchup of 2012, Michael Johnson gave the Browns' All-Pro Tackle Joe Thomas all that he could handle. Cincinnati will need another performance like that from Johnson to help pave the way to a victory.

Four weeks ago, the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Cleveland Browns to the tune of a 34-27 shootout. The victory extended Cincinnati's all-time record against Cleveland to 42-36, which is the biggest gap in the history of the rivalry. It was around this time that the Bengals really began to assert themselves as a defense that was going to be built on their defensive front's pass rush.

In that game, defensive end Michael Johnson gave fits to Browns left tackle Joe Thomas all afternoon. Johnson had a sack, three total tackles and caused Thomas to have a couple of penalties on the day. The consensus opinion was that Johnson won the critical matchup on the line--the stats and the victory point to that being an accurate assessment.

Since then, Johnson's performance has been a bit of feast or famine. He had three sacks against the Redskins and one last week in the loss against the Dolphins, but was blanked in any statistical category against the Jaguars. Regardless, Johnson is on pace for a career-best type of season, which just so happens to be a contract year for No.93.

As we explained earlier in the week, though the Bengals are doing well in the category of quarterback sacks, they are still doing very poorly in the area of turnovers. There's a bit of an anomaly in those two statistical categories being diametric opposites and that needs to change. In the last matchup, Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden looked like a savvy veteran and he didn't turn the ball over in any fashion. More pressures and sacks this Sunday will likely change that.

The good news is that the Bengals defense has seemingly improved over the past couple of weeks. Against the Dolphins and Jaguars, respectively, the defense has given up an average of 13.5 points per game. Conversely, in the first three games, the Bengals defense averaged 34 points per game. As if that wasn't good news enough, the Bengals appear to be the healthiest they have been all season (relatively speaking).

Thomas is one of the elite tackles in the game today, so the Bengals will need Johnson to win at the line of scrimmage once again. He'll need some help from guys like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap to win their respective battles as well, but if Johnson can impose his will on Thomas once again on Sunday, the Bengals will have a good chance to contain Trent Richardson and make Weeden beat them with his arm. That is a big part of the formula for a victory.

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