Bengals pass offense vs. Browns pass defense
You wouldn't know it hearing from pundits and some fans, but the Bengals have the league's seventh-best passing offense this year, averaging 270.5 yards passing per game. The 18 touchdowns is tied for sixth and for a team that lacks big plays, their 39 20-plus yard passes is tied for third. That's a far cry from the crippling intimidation of a school-yard bully in Andy's playground.
Of course generic statistics rarely translates properly. Whether you're rocking hardcore with the "I believe in him" faction or the "have to draft someone now" sect, quarterback Andy Dalton realizes that he has to play better -- a drum that many have been beating. More specifically, he needs to be more consistent.
"We thought he played inconsistent (against the Ravens)," said head coach Marvin Lewis on Monday. "We thought he had some marvelous plays, some great audibles and some great checks. He had a couple things that we wish he could have done better, and guys have to do a little better for him too."
It's the coach's speak of coach's speak. Don't throw your quarterback under the bus (he doesn't deserve it anyway), but acknowledge that he's clearly not the only player struggling. Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth allowed multiple sacks last week. The rest of the offensive line wasn't that much better. Mohamed Sanu ran the wrong route. Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert contributed with dropped passes.
But because Dalton is Dalton, and the face of a franchise starving for perfection, it all relies on the quarterback.
"He’ll continue to play better," said Lewis. "We put the pressure on him always to play better. He is the offense, he runs the offense. When we’re going good, he gets all the credit. When we’re not as good as we should be, it’s us that needs to be fixed. He had some plays he could have done better like everybody did, including the head coach. The head coach should have called timeout (before the early fourth-and-one try) and taken the pressure off the offense."
Cleveland isn't an easy team to pass against. They are in the top-ten in total defense (5th), passing defense (10th), sacks (5th) and touchdowns allowed (9th). Cornerback Joe Haden has given A.J. Green fits, but it's not like the two-time Pro Bowler hasn't thrived against the Browns. In five career games against Cleveland, Green has two games over 100 yards receiving and four total touchdowns.
Jermaine Gresham is coming off a groin injury but his production has left more to be desired against Cleveland. The fourth-year tight end has never surpassed 70 yards in a game against Cleveland -- but at least he's scored three touchdowns in seven career meetings.
Ultimately, Cincinnati's successes will come down to the same thing that every passing game comes down to. Protection. Cleveland ranks fifth in the NFL with 31 quarterback sacks, distributed among 15 players -- which shows you that the threat can come from anywhere.
Bengals rushing offense vs. Browns rushing defense
Clearly the team's running game isn't helping. Perhaps it's a matter of inconsistency on their part as well, grouping runs together in one series, while ignoring it entirely in others. It's a minor trend that gives opposing defenses a little hint on their intentions.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis has had a broken thumb since week two and nagging knee problems that he's gutting through. Giovani Bernard is shifty and explosive, but a hard shot to the ribs settled some from demanding 25-carry production -- especially since he's a significant contributor in the passing game.
Maybe the team needs to give Cedric Peerman a few carries -- he plays every week as a special teamer anyway, so there's no changes on the active 46-man roster. Or give Rex Burkhead a try; you drafted him and lost Daniel Herron as a result. Why not give him a few carries?
Cincinnati's 18th ranked rushing offense will face a challenge in Cleveland's sixth-ranked rushing defense. The last time that these two teams met, Cincinnati had their second-worst performance on the ground. And during the last three games against Cleveland, the Bengals have totaled 219 yards rushing with a 3.4 yard/rush average.
"I will tell you we've played some groups that are playing the run pretty well. I think we've run for almost 300 yards the last two weeks, which is good, but are we happy? No. We can do better," said Lewis earlier this week. "We can do more, and we keep pushing our guys in that. We keep pointing those things out, that if we take care of this and take care of that, it’s going to give us more, and why more is important. We can’t be satisfied with that. We can do better. We've got to keep pushing hard to do better."
What's lost in Cincinnati's running game is balance.
In consecutive weeks, Dalton has attempted 104 combined passes (though there have been leads they've surrendered early) with 66 plays on the ground.
"It’s not where we want it to be, no question about that," running backs coach Hue Jackson said. "It’s not where I think we can be. I don’t see what I’m accustomed to seeing."
Bengals pass defense vs. Browns passing offense
For the first time in 20 consecutive games, the Bengals allowed a 300-yard passer when they beat Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions in week seven. In the three games since, opposing quarterbacks have only averaged 146.3 yards passing, been sacked 12 times while throwing four interceptions and only two touchdowns.
This is despite losing their top cornerback in Leon Hall, top pass rusher Geno Atkins, and linebacker/safety hybrid Taylor Mays. Granted those quarterbacks -- Geno Smith, Ryan Tannehill, and Joe Flacco -- aren't dominant throwers, but Cincinnati's passing defense is extremely healthy in terms of production.
Defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are trying to pick up the slack after Geno Atkins' departure. Both have combined for three quarterback sacks, six hits on the quarterback and 14 pressures since Detroit. Serviceable but not nearly as effective as one would hope. Dunlap and Johnson rank No. 28 and No. 29 in Pro Football Focus' Pass Rushing Productivity score. Both have combined for only 75 presses in 672 combined pass rushes.
Dunlap figures to have the advantage this weekend, facing offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz; currently in the bottom-ten in PFF's Pass Blocking Efficiency.
Cornerback Adam Jones has been as close to "shut down" as one could be, allowing only 10 of 22 passes to be completed against receivers he's covered in the last three games, while recording a pass defensed in three straight and an interception against the Jets. He'll give up the occasional play, but with Hall out with an Achilles, Jones has played well in his absence.
They'll need it.
Starting quarterback Jason Campbell has played well since being named as a starter two weeks ago, throwing five touchdowns without an interception and 556 yards passing. Three reasons for Campbell's successes have been the production that he's gotten out wide receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little, as well as tight end Jordan Cameron.
"The Cleveland Browns are playing good football," said Lewis. "They've won the last two times out. Jason Campbell has done a fine job for them at quarterback, being efficient with the football. He hasn't thrown an interception yet, and is leading them offensively. They’re really doing a good job. They've got good skill guys, physical guys. The tight end, Jordan Cameron, continues to play very, very well, and we've got our work cut out for us defensively."
Bengals rushing defense vs. Browns rushing offense
The Browns rushing offense isn't going to scare people.
With only one touchdown in their pocket this season, Cleveland has surpassed 100 yards rushing only twice this season, led by Willis McGahee with his 262 yards rushing and 2.6 yard/rush average.
Despite being traded after week two, Trent Richardson is still the team's second-leading rusher with only 105 yards.
On the other hand, Cincinnati's rushing defense (like the rest of the entire defense) is strong. They're currently ranked ninth in the NFL while only allowing four touchdowns (ranked sixth). Yet, they've had a handful of let-downs against the Miami Dolphins (157 yards), Buffalo Bills (130 yards) and Green Bay Packers (182 yards).