While the Cincinnati Bengals are riding high on a historic 7-0 start to the season, the Cleveland Browns are in all-too familiar territory with a 2-6 start to the 2015 season. Injuries, quarterback issues and suspensions have all hit the Browns hard this year, but they've fought through them the best they can.
It's likely that the Bengals are a playoff team and the Browns are not this year, but Cleveland still knows how to give fits to Cincinnati. Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green has often been held in check and the series is no longer an annual sweep for the Bengals under Marvin Lewis. The Browns gave the Bengals one of the worst losses in recent memory almost a year ago to the day this Thursday night and would love to do the same in 2015.
The Browns are far more banged up this week than the Bengals, but Cincinnati had its share of dings from their Sunday slugfest against the Steelers. We take a look at some of the most intriguing individual player matchups of the evening in this post.
RB Jeremy Hill Versus LB Karlos Dansby:
If you watched the Steelers/Bengals game last Sunday, you likely got the feeling Hill started to look more like the guy we saw during the second half of 2014. He's struggled early this season, particularly in the yards-per-carry category, but he's still found the end zone often. Against a stingy Steelers defense, Hill ground out four yards a pop on Sunday and gouged the Browns in the second matchup of last season. It's around this time of the year that a resurgence from Hill would be most welcomed by offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson.
Dansby is one of the most productive and underrated linebackers in this era of football. In his 12th season, the guy can sack the quarterback, intercept a pass and line up his defense to put them in the best possible position. He isn't a "thumper" linebacker, but he'll be tasked with containing Hill and maybe even causing fumbles, an issue that occurred last year on Thursday night and carried over a bit into the beginning of this season. It will be veteran savviness against an exciting youngster here--especially with the Bengals liking the idea of finally establishing the run this year.
C Russell Bodine Versus DT Danny Shelton:
Every Bengals fan's favorite whipping boy had a rough outing against the Steelers on Sunday. While that's not necessarily surprising because of Pittsburgh's annual defensive prowess, they didn't have Stephon Tuitt and still frustrated a good Bengals' offensive line and the red-hot Andy Dalton on Sunday. It will be brute strength against brute strength Thursday night with Bodine going up against the big rookie in the middle in Shelton.
Recently, Shelton commented about his disappointment in his play this year, but it might be him shouldering the blame for a team that has failed to capture any momentum they gained last season. He's a load at almost 340 pounds and came with a lot of accolades in the draft out of the University of Washington. He hasn't had a sack or forced a turnover this year and only only has two stuffed plays in eight games played. Hopefully the yo-yo that resembles Bodine's game-by-game performances is coming back up, otherwise the promising rookie might have his coming out party on the road.
TE Gary Barnidge Versus S Reggie Nelson:
If Tyler Eifert is an emerging star at tight end, then count Barnidge in the same category, just with far less fanfare. He has as many touchdown receptions as Eifert (six) and is on pace for a 1,000-yard receiving season. He's made miraculous catches and standard ones, but has been the most consistent offensive weapon for the Browns, especially with injuries and suspensions to so many other receiving options. Did we mention Heath Miller had his best game of the year on Sunday, grabbing 10 passes for 105 yards?
Nelson started off slow, but had two big interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday, giving him three for 2015. With Vontaze Burfict back and looking effective and George Iloka adding in a few nice plays last week as well, the Bengals will likely try and use a combination of players to defend Barnidge. It's possible Johnny Manziel gets the start on Thursday night and with injuries to both Andrew Hawkins and Brian Hartline making it look like they'll be out of the lineup, Barnidge will be targeted often.
CBs Tramon Williams And Pierre Desir Versus A.J. Green:
Green has done well against the AFC North, especially of late, but Joe Haden has been the bane of his Bengals existence. This duel goes back to their SEC college days and has carried into the pros, but it sounds like Haden won't play Thursday night with a lingering concussion issue. The injury puts Desir and Williams on high alert, as both Green and Andy Dalton are having an outstanding 2015 season.
Désir doesn't have a forced turnover this year, but has five passes defensed in 2015. The other thing he has is size at 6'2", 205 pounds and he'll want to use that against the Pro Bowl wide receiver. Williams, the longtime Green Bay Packers corner, also has a goose egg in the interception category, but has brought a veteran presence. One would think this will be a feeding frenzy for Green and Dalton, but the Browns have been known to frustrate both.
OLB Paul Kruger And DE Desmond Bryant Versus OT Eric Winston:
The talk about activating rookie offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has stemmed from the Bengals experiencing injuries along the offensive line, but he hasn't come off of PUP yet. Fellow healthy rookie, Jake Fisher is still raw and isn't going to be counted on for a starting role early. Why do we bring this up? Starting right tackle Andre Smith is dealing with a concussion, paving the way for long-the-tooth veteran Winston to get the start.
When he isn't taking epic mug shots after arrests, Bryant is a disruptive player. He has two sacks on the year and was a monster last year on Thursday night against the Bengals. Kruger, after signing a big free agent deal before the 2013 season and amassing 15.5 sacks in his first two seasons with the Browns, has just a half sack through eight games this year. Both Cleveland defenders will look to exploit Smith's likely absence at right tackle.