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Bengals vs Browns: 4 key Browns to watch for in Cincinnati

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This should be the primetime game where the Bengals show the world how dominant they are. But as past events would suggest, we should be aware of how tough this game will be.

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Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Remember last year's thursday Night Football game between the Bengals and the Browns? I don't. I don't know what you're talking about. I do remember Johnny Manziel's first career start in 2014, though. He is playing in place of Josh McCown, who was injured in St. Louis and again against the Cardinals last week. The veteran play caller has been good for his team so far, even leading the NFL in third down quarterback rating.

Cleveland is really banged up, star cornerback Joe Haden, solid safety Donte Whitner and veteran wide receivers Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins are officially out. They are all important contributors, and all of a sudden this game between the two AFC North rivals looks even more lopsided. But this is national TV and the Battle for Ohio, so this clash will be very interesting. Will the Bengals get to 8-0 for first time in franchise history? Can Manziel repeat what he did against the Titans in Week 2 - he made a couple of plays, enough to get the win - and beat the Bengals? We don't have the answer to those questions, yet, but we do have some important names you should be aware of before the game. These Browns will be key tonight:

1) Danny Shelton

Cleveland's run defense is a mess, and they face the two-headed monster the Bengals have at tailback, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. But this is not Shelton's fault, or at least there are some others more responsible for it. The massive nose tackle with the size of Kentucky is a first round pick of Samoan and Peruvian descent. At 6'2" and almost 340 pounds he is favored to destroy Cincinnati's center Russell Bodine, who is struggling mightily.

Some in Northeast Ohio are already wondering if he is a bust, after the Browns used the 12th pick in the first round of this past draft. He has not been disruptive yet and trash talks a lot, but he is the man that can attack Cincy's major weakness. Can Bodine do this?


Sheldon is apparently struggling when asked to fill two gaps, and Cleveland is employing more four-man fronts to help him.

2) Gary Barnidge and Travis Benjamin

The three-time All Pro and six-time Pro Bowler has been as great as he's been his entire career.

Just kidding. But, Barnidge the, 6'3" Bowling Green product has three times as many catches as his previous season high, and has hit paydirt six times already. The Bengals just allowed 105 yards to Steelers' tight end, Heath Miller last Sunday. And with a suspicious running game and small wide receivers Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel as the other weapons, Barnidge looks like one of the few playmakers the Cleveland offense will have for the game. He's been uber reliable in the end zone, but in Week 2, Manziel's only other start this season, he only had one catch for 17 yards.

Manziel operated off the play action and took deep shots that rely on speedy receivers like Benjamin and former Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins - who won't play - to beat their man. But it would be counter productive to look away from Barnidge now. Benjamin got a team-high four targets and added 115 yards in Week 2. The rest of the team only had 57.

But, if they get to the goal line and decide to pass, look out for Barnidge.


And don't bite on the play action fake.


3) Joe Thomas

I believe he and Whitworth are the best offensive tackles in the NFL, and Thomas is probably the best player on the Browns' roster. But he was almost traded to Denver, and who knows how that will affect him.

Some fans think Cleveland's offensive line has been playing poorly, but they are elite and one good quarterback away from people noticing it. The Rams sacked McCown four times, but, come on, Saint Louis' front four is a terminator army. The running game has been bad, though, but that is because the opponents are not afraid of the weapons the Browns have. They kept in check the mighty Denver Broncos' pass rush.


Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is also pretty good himself. Brandon Thorn did a nice film breakdown of him on Twitter.

4) Craig Robertson

One of the reasons this defense is giving up so many yards on the ground is linebacker Craig Robertson. He just seems unable to stop a play. At 6'1" and 233 pounds he might look a little bit undersized for the ILB position. He took over the job in his second season and was good alongside D'Qwell Jackson, but has regressed a bit this year. Robertson was especially bad against Arizona in Week 8, failing to make any stop and allowing one touchdown in one of the two times he was targeted.


This is on paper, a good matchup for the Bengals, but Cleveland always puts up a good fight when playing the Cincinnati Bengals.