What happened in Baltimore is most discouraging, but we all woke up the next day and the day after that, so apparently all is not lost. Still, a trouncing wasn't expected and the national stage burst into flames once again for the Bengals. We can shake our heads all we want but the fact is, Cleveland is up next and so to raise our spirits, let's just forget that mortifying Monday-nighter against the Ravens and live in the now.
Thank God Joe Haden is missing this one; that boy is bad. So is D'Qwell Jackson (yep, spelled right), T.J. Ward, and Jabaal Sheard, for that matter. This defense grew up some last year and they have the personnel to get noticed soon. They created five turnovers and dropped two others last week, but most of that was Michael Vick being brainless with the ball. What's important, though, is that the Browns had a fourth quarter lead with six minutes left thanks to those turnovers made by that defense and if Andy Dalton suffers from similar brain cramps, they could make him pay.
Of all things to be left standing in some positive light last week, the offensive line—particularly the middle three—looked professional as hell. The pass protection came out admirably and the run blocking looked consistent. One of the rare criticisms mentioned with the Ravens is their current lack of pass rush, and the hippos up front for the Bengals did nothing to change that reputation. From what I saw in the Cleveland game, either the Browns' pass rush is disruptive in the pocket, or Vick just can't stay put for very long. I suspect it's both and I think Dalton will have to make some plays out of the pocket himself. If it really gets harry, look for BenJarvus Green-Ellis to be called on to chip the pass rush in max protect formations, though I don't think the sacks will get out of hand if the Bengals stick with their short passing and screen game.
Since Hayden is out, A.J. Green can breathe more comfortably but if he relaxes across the middle, T.J. Ward will remind him what league he's in. If the Browns put Sheldon Brown on Green (that's a lot of colors), look for the Bengals to try and isolate him with the veteran and beat him with speed and quickness. Dalton missed Green on a deep ball last week in single coverage. Since AJ is a mismatch made in heaven, it's imperative Red connects when he's got a step. Explosive plays do not seem abundant within this offense and Gruden knows he must set up the defense with his play-calling script and pick his spots wisely. Converting on these limited opportunities is crucial to getting seven rather than three points, and if the defense is flimsy after all, the Bengals can't live with field goals alone.
This year was built on defense, but it wasn't there in Baltimore. The secondary is slow, there's no getting around it. Manny Lawson in pass coverage spells first downs all day. Now the best cover linebacker on the team is out with a busted knee, setting the stage for Vontaze Burfict to make a difference. Personally, I like the move. The man is an instinctual player who overdoes it in both good and bad ways. He smells a little bit like Odell Thurman and I like the crazy look in his eye. If nobody else wants to make a play, why not give him a shot?
I do worry about Burfict in coverage, especially with misdirections and play-action stuff, but I'm anxious to see him get after Trent Richardson in the run game. Since the Browns employ an oddly-aged rookie quarterback who appeared bewildered with the pro game last week, I would send Burfict and just about everybody else at Brandon Weeden. With the return of Carlos Dunlap, the pass rush must make a difference in this game. I do think Weeden will look a bit more capable of quarterbacking this week, but more mistakes are to be had with this Chris Weinke-clone. Not putting pressure on a rookie quarterback never makes sense and the same holds true for this Sunday.
If Richardson has a big day, which I suspect that he might, banking on Weeden to blow it becomes even more important. Richardson has the stuff of greatness in him. Philly did a nice job, but Cleveland's run-blocking was not working. The key for the Bengals is allowing decent runs without giving up the big ones. If Weeden is put in 3rd-and-three situations, the Bengals defense will come away happy, but giving up the explosive runs will make leads more tenuous than necessary. So if Mike Zimmer is to blitz heavily and still rely on limited running room, tackling—or at least slowing down—the ball carrier is an absolute must. Even though they're slow, the Bengals secondary can tackle, and a coordinator like Zim should be able to work with that.
This should be easy but it won't be. Everything goes wrong in football. Both teams have a lot of figuring out to do—a lot of introspection that needs to happen—but in the end, it's the Bengals who know who they are. Take limited big shots, but convert them when you do. Get after Weeden but tackle Richardson. Follow that prescription, and you'll feel better in no time.
Bengals 23, Browns 12
Mojokong—safe at home!