Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns vs. Bengals – Week 12

The Browns start a stretch of five division games over the next six weeks as they travel to Cincinnati on Sunday to take on the Bengals.

The Opposition

Cincinnati record: 6-4 (3rd in the AFC North)
Offensive rank: 18th overall/17th passing/19th rushing
Defensive rank: 6th overall/11th passing/3rd rushing
All-time record: Bengals lead 40-36; the Browns are 14-24 in Cincy, with their last win coming in 2008
Last meeting: Cincinnati won 27-17 in Week 1
The line: Browns (+7.5)

What to Watch For

This game may not be as one-sided as some people believe.

The Bengals were an early season flavor of the month as they grew fat on a weak schedule that included wins over Buffalo, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Seattle and Tennessee (combined record of 17-33). Somehow the Bengals were supposed to be good because they beat those teams, but when the Browns scored wins against some of those same teams it was a sign of their abject incompetence.

When the Bengals stepped up in class the past two weeks, against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the results were predictable losses.

Of course the Browns aren’t in the category of the Steelers and Ravens, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance on Sunday.

The Bengals offense is good, but hardly a powerhouse, although they do average 23.6 points per game, which is a problem when you consider the Browns only average 14.5.

Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton comes into the game with five interceptions the past two weeks, (3 against Baltimore, 2 against Pittsburgh) and one thing that Browns quarterback Colt McCoy has avoided is multiple interception games.

After dropping at least three interceptions last week against the Jaguars, this might be a good week for Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown to focus on holding onto the ball. If the Browns defense can force Dalton to make mistakes and give the offense a short field to work with, that would go a long way toward a win.

The Browns may be able to focus on Dalton because running back Cedric Benson hasn’t been much of a threat in the running game. After hitting the Browns for 121 yards in the opener, Benson has broken 100 yards only once and hasn’t gone over 78 yards in his last five games.

This seems like a good opportunity for the Browns 29th-ranked run defense to actually step up and help out for a change.

One thing that would definitely help the Browns is if Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty can both play today. Hardesty is expected to play and Hillis says he’s ready, and if true, adding them to Chris Ogbonnaya can only pay dividends against a Bengal defense that is giving up just 88.6 yards per game on the ground.

A strong running game will help McCoy, who has played his best the past two weeks as it seems like the coaching staff has finally figured out how to put him in situations that maximize his abilities.

“I’m looking for him to lead the charge in terms of ‘show improvement and win the game’ and I think that’s what we’re looking for as we go forward,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said this week. “The way I look at it, we’re 4-6 and we’re trying to win this game as we push into the second half of this season. Hopefully we get on a roll here and then we can do something beyond January 1. We’re putting all our efforts into beating the Bengals and Colt is no different.”

That’s nice that the coach is throwing out the challenge, but let’s not forget it’s a team effort there, Pat, and that includes the coaching staff.

The Prediction

With the Bengals coming off consecutive losses in the division, and with another division game next week in Pittsburgh, today could be a good day for the Browns to pick up an unexpected win.

However, the Browns have lost 11 of their last 14 against Cincinnati, including six of seven on the road (including two ugly losses under super coach Eric Mangini).

The best chance for the Browns will be to minimize mistakes and keep the game close (where have we heard that before?) as Cleveland is 3-1 this year in games decided by four points or less.

The Browns are still a struggling work in progress, but the Bengals have crashed back to earth, so we like the Browns and the points this week.

Record picking the Browns (using the point spread) this year: 6-3-1.

(Photo by Cleveland Browns.com)

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