Part one of the 2017 “Battle of Ohio” has a little less luster than usual, seeing as how the Bengals and the Browns are both 0-3 heading into the Week 4 matchup. Both teams are desperately trying to get a win this week and because of the familiarity between the head coaches, Marvin Lewis and Hue Jackson are definitely coming up with schemes they hope will be successful on Sunday.
As Jackson said this week of Andy Dalton, "He'll get back to being Andy - I just don't want it to be this week."
Here are five of the biggest keys to a Bengals’ victory over the Browns this week.
Establish specific roles for each of the top running backs:
Even though lanes were inconsistent last week, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor seemed to have a good idea of how to best use the trio of talented running backs at his disposal. Joe Mixon did a little bit of everything, Jeremy Hill attempted to grind out the tough-yardage situations, while Giovani Bernard was effective in specialty packages.
Lazor will need to use these three to their respective strengths again against Cleveland. Hill has been a Brown killer in the past, so even though the Bengals will want to get the ball to Mixon, he shouldn’t be completely be left out in the cold.
No carelessness from Andy Dalton:
A lot has been made of Dalton’s decline this year and while a lot of blame can be placed on the offensive line, he has either turned the ball over or missed potential big plays frequently. Still, after a five turnover performance in the season-opener, Dalton hasn’t committed a single one in the past two games.
He needs to keep the latter streak alive, so Cleveland won’t get free points on their home field. No. 14 will also need to make the proper reads and hit his receivers when they are open for a play, which has been an inexplicable struggle for him this season.
Take the home crowd out of it early:
When a team is struggling, they usually look for the first sign of luck: the opposition slipping up, or getting a big play so their fans get behind them. Browns fans are starving for something to cheer about and, in truth, the way the Bengals have struggled this year, this is a winnable game for Cleveland at home.
A big play from A.J. Green, Vontaze Burfict grabbing an interception or something of the like early on will get the boo-birds out and put the Browns behind the eight ball. The Bengals need to rebuild their confidence and getting an early lead against a division foe on the road will go a long way in that regard.
Don’t let DeShone Kizer improvise for big plays:
Cincinnati has had recent trouble with mobile quarterbacks. Robert Griffin III torched them back in 2012, Deshaun Watson had a 49-yard touchdown run a couple of weeks ago, and while Ben Roethlisberger isn’t the most fleet of foot, the Bengals always have trouble keeping him contained in the pocket and limiting his backyard football passing style.
Kizer has 87 rushing yards on 17 carries (5.1 average) with two scores on the ground in his first three pro games. Paul Guenther will need to have his defense aware of the multiple threats Kizer poses, or else we’ll see similarly frustrating plays by a quarterback on the run.
Play the hot hands:
Last week, Lazor made the conscious decision to get the ball in the hands of who he feels are the most talented offensive players. Green had 10 catches for 111 yards and a score, while Mixon had 21 total touches (18 carries, three receptions) for 101 total yards (68 rushing, 32 receiving).
Continuing to feed the football to their best play-makers will give Andy Dalton and the entire offense more confidence—provided the stars step up. On defense, we won’t call for the benching of Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick after they both got roughed up by Aaron Rodgers, but Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III definitely earned more playing time with their Week 3 game tape, as did Carl Lawson off of the edge.