Typically, when I go into writing this, I ask myself four questions:
- What is this team good at?
- What is this team bad at?
- Which Bengals players can help stop the answer to the first question?
- Which Bengals players should take advantage of the second question?
This is a hard thing to do with Cleveland though. When I look at their statistics, I see a team that is 25th in points per game, 18th in yards per game, 9th in pass yards per game (but Johnny Manziel is starting this week), 31st in rushing yard per game, 26th in points allowed per game, and 26th in giveaways vs takeaways. Any way you cut it, they are just not a good football team. There are zero logical reasons that the Browns should beat the Bengals.
For whatever reason, the Browns are guaranteed to give the Bengals at least one rough game per year, it seems. Combine that with the fact that this is a primetime game... Yes I know, this team looks so different from any in the Andy Dalton era. And yet, I still have this little bit of doubt in the back of my head. We haven't seen them under the lights this year. Thinking about the Cleveland game on Thursday Night Football last year still triggers post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms for me.
The question is, who can keep that from happening again?
1.) Andy Dalton
Yeah! I know he is typically excluded from this list. I could put him here every single week, but that would be boring. My job is to entertain and inform you, dear readers. We've made it to Week 9, so I feel that it is fair to put him here for a game under circumstances that he has traditionally played pretty bad under. As some of you may know, I don't put a lot of weight on historical stats. I believe things that have happened in past seasons have basically nothing to do with a team in a new year. Each season is a vacuum, and each game is as well, to a certain extent. With all of that said... I've had some pretty bad nights in front of the TV as our boys, and especially Andy Dalton, have played horribly on national television. If Dalton comes out and plays well, that's all it will take. The Bengals can win even if he doesn't play well, but they almost cannot lose if he plays at the level he did in Weeks 1-6.
2.) Russell Bodine
Before I get to Bodine, I just wanted to note that it was at this moment that I realized that even the Browns' website sucks. I am on my computer at work, and we have a pretty dang good internet connection (4 ms ping, 88.19 Mbps download, 84.89 Mbps upload). It took 15 seconds for their depth chart to load. It loaded on ESPN in about 0.01 seconds.
Back on subject though. Statistics aside, the Browns have a solid front seven. Lining up directly across from Bodine is rookie Danny Shelton. Although his play has been uneven at times, he clearly has talent. Seemingly any average or better player who lines up across from Bodine can have a big impact on gameday. Shelton definitely has the ability to do just that. Russell will need to perform well, snaps included, to keep the Browns from creating a big play.
3.) Vontaze Burfict
Going up against an offense that doesn't do anything particularly well, I expect a lot of action to happen around the line of scrimmage. There will likely be lots of runs for their running backs and quarterback, short passes, screens, etc. After last week, I think it is safe to assume that Tez will be getting plenty of reps assuming there are no setbacks or soreness in his surgically-repaired knee. If he's on the field, he is the man who can sniff out all of those plays. His instincts make him a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker. If he's on the field, expect him to be making tackles.
4.) Tyler Eifert
Donte Whitner is out. Tashaun Gipson is banged up. What I'm getting at here, is that if the Bengals attack the seams with Eifert, they should find success. I'm tempted to predict that Eifert will be the leading receiver in this game, but without Joe Haden, that honor could easily go to A.J. Green. Either way, Eifert's prowess in the middle of the field and especially his effectiveness in the red zone should make him a key contributor on Thursday night.
5.) Dre Kirkpatrick
I've gotten to the point to where I tense up and get nervous every time the ball is thrown in his direction. He was bailed out by Iloka several times last week, is frequently turned around, and never seems to be able to play the ball at all.Travis Benjamin has been very productive for Cleveland this year and is one of their best offensive weapons. Yes, that has been with Josh McCown at quarterback, but when Benjamin is matched up with Kirkpatrick, you can expect Manziel to look that way. Manziel had success with Benjamin in Week 2 against the Titans when Benjamin had 115 yards and 2 touchdowns.