Last year, these two teams met at Paul Brown Stadium for a mid-season Thursday Night Football edition of the Battle of Ohio, and let's just say the Bengals set football back about 100 years. This week, the Bengals look to redeem themselves in the eyes of America and improve their franchise record-breaking mark to 8-0. To see our Q&A with Dawgs by Nature, click here.
Q: The last time we traded questions, Johnny Manziel was making his first NFL start and Browns fans were very excited and optimistic about what he would bring. Things couldn't have gone worse for Manziel in that game and quickly spiraled downward both on and off the field. Where does the organization stand with Manziel and do you believe the organization is committed to him as their future starter?
A: I think the longer the Browns stick with a 36-year-old starter (who has played well mind you) it is becoming more and more likely that this coaching staff doesn't see what they want. My true belief is that they would prefer him to be gone but the front office seems intent on him getting to play. Right now I would say even odds to see him back this season. -Matt Wood
Q: Since returning to Cleveland in 1999, the Browns have not kept a coach for more than four seasons and have only had two coaches (Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel) make it to a third season. After starting his coaching career 6-3, Mike Pettine has gone 3-12 since. Is Pettine on the proverbial hot seat in Cleveland?
A: I am disappointed to say that Mike Pettine is absolutely on the hot seat. Fans are booing at games before halftime, Pettine's Browns look like they are on track to win as few games as any other year, and Jimmy Haslam isn't exactly perceived as the most patient, cold, and calculated guy. We've seen this owner fire coaches and GMs after less time, so if Pett can't string a lot of wins together to end the season I'd be surprised if he was still here next year.
However, I think firing Pettine would be the wrong move. We haven't had stability...ever. Pettine seems like an intelligent guy, he makes good enough gameday decisions, he seems willing to adapt to his players' strengths, he seems committed to the Cleveland Browns, and he seems to understand the culture of the city. There's nothing that really "wows" me about Pettine, but unless we go way off the NFL radar to hire someone like Tom Herman I'm not sure I am interested in replacing one bland NFL guy with another bland NFL guy and hoping things change. Why not do something different and actually give Pettine time to build the team he wants?
Lastly, Pettine either willfully or by happenstance hasn't been able to draft, develop, and play "his guy" at quarterback. I'd like to see the Browns either commit to Manziel (after Manziel commits to actually being a professional for more than 6 months) or draft another guy and give Pettine a chance with him. Rarely do we see any head coach win in the NFL without a franchise QB, and if another coach isn't going to be able to win sans-QB, what use is it to fire the guy we already have? - Zach Miller
Q: The Browns big offseason signing was Dwayne Bowe and through seven games, he has as many catches as you and I, and in fact, has only been active for two or three of the Browns' eight games. What is going on with the Bowe situation and who is to blame for how it has transpired?
A: I can see how a big receiver who could theoretically catch contested passes and have a large catching radius would be attractive to GM Ray Farmer, given Josh McCown's success in Chicago with Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. I don't think it was necessarily a bad gamble on the Browns' part that Bowe still had something left in the tank: if it worked out, we'd have a former 1st rounder at wideout. If not, all we would have given up would be cap space, and we have plenty of it. In each of his previous three seasons, Bowe had at least 57 catches. He's big and physical, and could potentially be called into the box to block on the Browns' Inside Zone/Iso play where we currently have guys like Brian Hartline (and smaller) trying to account for safeties.
Bowe was injured in the preseason and never got the work he needed to get. Maybe he felt like he should get a veteran's pass in camp, maybe the coaches disagreed. Who knows for sure. What I do know is that I am counting on Bowe to contribute absolutely nothing for the rest of the year. If he surprises me, great. So who is to blame? Maybe a bad evaluation by Ray Farmer, but I probably blame Father Time. If Farmer should be accountable for anything, it should really be failing to add a good WR through the draft. I know that cherry-picking isn't realistic, but as an example what if we picked Odell Beckham Jr. instead of Justin Gilbert in 2014? -rufio
Q: Coming into the 2015 season, I think most fans did not have high expectations for the Browns' offense, but the defense has one of the best secondaries in the NFL, they should have an improved defensive line and Karlos Dansby returned to what should be a solid linebacking corps. How has the defense played thus far in 2015?
A: In all honesty, the Browns' defense has underperformed. The secondary has played quite well, even with cornerback Joe Haden and safety Tashaun Gipson missing significant time, though the absence of 2014 first round pick Justin Gilbert is aggravating. However, the defensive line has been average and the linebackers have played terribly. Despite the addition of Randy Starks and Danny Shelton, the defensive line has failed to clog running lanes and generate any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The line is not the root cause of the problem, though.
The team's true problem is its linebackers, particularly Christian Kirksey and Craig Robertson. These two cannot flow to the ball and frequently miss tackles. A 3-4 defense requires a team have strong backers to attack the running back, contain the edges, and make tackles at the point of attack. That's not happening. The Browns' inability to stop the run is simply frustrating and killing the team late in games. This weakness is particularly dangerous against a team with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill at running back. -Joe Ginley
Q: Speaking of the defensive line, I liked the Browns' selection of Danny Shelton in the first round. How has Shelton looked in his rookie season?
A: The Cleveland Browns sit dead last in run defense and have only recorded 13 sacks on the season so far, so it would be impossible to say that anyone on the Browns defensive line is having a great season. As for Danny Shelton, he has poor knee bend and struggles to hold his ground in two-gap assignments vs. good interior linemen. He looks his best when asked to fill a single gap and the team does employ a lot of 4-man fronts that accommodate this. He has also been a non-factor as a pass rusher, where some hoped he would be able to contribute due to his college success, but this shouldn't be much of a surprise for a nose tackle.
He hasn't played anywhere close to being worthy of the 12th pick in the draft, but he's not one to blame for the Browns horrific run defense. This falls squarely on the shoulders of the outside and inside linebackers and the safeties (as well as the coaching staff and GM). This team cannot reliably set the edge and gives up way too many big plays where they give up contain. They have also missed numerous tackles in the hole, on the edge, and in the open field that have led to large gains. -Tim Miller
Bonus: What is your prediction for Thursday?
A: The Bengals are a far better team right now, obviously. With that said, I'd be lying if I didn't say I was considering the "upset route," solely because of Cincinnati's prime time woes with Andy Dalton. Plus, they have to lose at some point, right? -Chris Pokorny