After being shamed by Oakland, the Bengals this week are a salty, irritated bunch of grumps who badly need to hit something,anything, and do it soon.
Luckily for them, the Three Stooges phase of the schedule continues. The Curly of the trio, the Cleveland Browns, come wafting into Cincinnati this weekend.
Oakland is not a good team, but Cleveland is the worst, proving it last week by letting fellow bottom-feeder, Detroit, climb back from a three touchdown lead and beat them. With that recurring life lesson about there being no sure thing in life still fresh on the minds of the Bengals and their fans, another upset doesn't feel so plausible as it did last week. Still, the team has to approach this game with all seriousness, so we as fans should follow suit.
The Browns did play a little offense last week against the worst defense in the NFL. Brady Quinn got to show off his arm strength early as he found receivers deep after play-actions and pump-fakes, and their screen plays looked effective and fairly well practiced.
Rookie receiver Mohamed Massaquoi put up nice numbers against the Bengals in their first meeting and has become Cleveland's biggest offensive threat. I expect keeping Massaquoi from getting open deep will be this week's focal point for Mike Zimmer and his game-plan.
I also think getting more pressure on the quarterback has to be a defensive priority this week. Not getting to Bruce Gradkowski, especially late in the game, was a major contributing factor in allowing Oakland to escape with a win. Quinn has shown glimpses of quality quarterback play in his two years but he still makes a lot of rookie mistakes. The best way for a defense to force a youngster into making more errors is to create situations that demand the quarterback to make quick, impulsive decisions. Turning up the heat on Quinn could freak him out and force a few fumbles on sacks, or pick-sixes.
Lastly, Cincinnati should be prepared to face Josh Cribbs in the wildcat formation. Cribbs has uncanny field vision, plenty of speed, and is bigger than he seems. He's obviously one of the most explosive return-guys in the league, but the defense mustn't take him lightly on screens, end-arounds, and in the wildcat.
All of it means that Zimmer can fire the blitz at will as long as Massaquoi is covered with some safety help on deep routes. Cleveland might sneak into the red zone a few times by countering with a well-timed screen or draw for a big play, but I wouldn't count on the Brownies putting up many points against this load of angry defensive pirates.
Life should be a lot easier on the other side of the ball. The Cleveland defense is a mess. They have one giant sea-monster at nose tackle in Shaun Rogers but the concern ends there. They have no real pass rush, their secondary is slow and easily fooled, and the unit as a whole struggles at tackling.
Like last week, the Bengals would prefer not to pass many more than 20 times this Sunday. They should stick to the motto: get an early lead, run the ball, use clock, and this time don't fumble. If Benson sits out again, I would like to see more Larry Johnson.
Bernard Scott is an electric runner who can bust out at any time, but his running style comes with an inherent inconsistency that seems difficult to rely on. Brian Leonard packs more of a wallop, but appears to have narrow field vision when he gets the ball. He's the kind of runner who runs straight ahead until someone tackles him rather than try many jukes or cutbacks (though he is a talented hurdler).
Larry Johnson, however, is the quintessential "normal" running back. At this point of his strange and tumultuous career, he is not as premiere of an every-down back as is Benson, but he can fill the void left by Benson's absence better than the other two options.
Complaints were made to the effect that the offensive line didn't block as well for its runners last week, but I feel that the inconsistencies of the running game was more a result of the personnel used rather than the effort of the line. In other words: you can't use complimentary backs as every-down backs and expect the same results.
The final concern the Bengals must address this week is on special teams. Shawn Rogers blocks kicks as a hobby and he's one of the all-time bests at it, Josh Cribbs returning kicks is probably their best chance at touchdowns, and Cincinnati is coming off a game that some could argue was lost because of shoddy special-teams play.
It's back to basics this week. There's no reason the Bengals should struggle against their intrastate rival in this game. A sweep of the division would be a nice bright peacock feather in the Bengals' cap, but they need to go out and earn it first. The Browns get paid to win football games too, isn't that right, Marvin?
Bengals 27, Browns 13
Mojokong---basking in fragrant pools of starch and tryptophan.
Week 12 Preview: Seeing Brown
By Bryan Burke