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In Cleveland, hope dies last

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Browns vs. Bengals – Week 1

The Browns kick off the 2011 NFL season on Sunday at home against Cincinnati, looking to do something they’ve only done once since 1999 – win their season-opening game.

That’s right, the Browns are 1-11 in season openers during the past 12 years, with the lone win coming in 2004 as Jeff Garcia led the team to a win at home over Baltimore. What better way to open the new and improved Pat Shurmur era than with a win against the Bengals – who have lost their last three season openers.

Shurmur is looking to become the first Browns coach to win his debut since Bud Carson in 1989. Since then, Bill Belichick, Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini have all failed to win in their debuts.

It wasn’t always like that, of course. Of the Browns first five head coaches, only Forrest Gregg, in 1975, came up short in his debut. And, of course, the Browns won the most famous opening day game in NFL history – their 35-10 beating of the defending NFL Champion Philadelphia Eagles when the Browns joined the NFL in 1950.

The Opposition

Cincinnati (2010) record: 4-12
Offensive rank (2010): 20th overall/13th passing/27th rushing
Defensive rank (2010): 18th overall/14th passing/19th rushing

What to Watch For

How effective can the Browns be on offense?

Starting wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi missed the entire preseason with a foot injury, starting left guard Eric Steinbach and projected third-down back Brandon Jackson are out for the season with injuries, starting right tackle Tony Pashos recently spent time in a walking boot and backup running back Montario Hardesty, who the Browns will need to rely on this year so Peyton Hillis doesn’t wear down, only carried the ball five times in the preseason.

Nobody said this was going to be easy.

If the Browns can take a lead into the second half, they should be able to control the clock with Hillis running the ball and McCoy running a short, accurate passing game.

On defense, the Browns catch a break as they will face rookie quarterback Andy Dalton rather than Carson Palmer. That should help the team as it continues to transition to defensive coordinator Dick Jauron’s “play fast, think less” 4-3 defense.

The Browns will have to control running back Cedric Benson. In their 23-20 win over the Bengals last year, the Browns held Benson to 60 yards rushing. In the 19-17 loss, Benson ran for 150 yards.

That may be easier said than done, as the Browns have been extremely poor against the run since 1999, with their average ranking being No. 28.

If the Browns don’t let Benson have a big day, they can go after Dalton with their new front four of Jayme Mitchell, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Jabaal Sheard.

Browns corner back Joe Haden renews his SEC rivalry with wide receiver A.J. Green, which should be a fun match up to watch.

Bengals player that always seemed to torment the Browns

Wide receiver Isaac Curtis, who played for Cincinnati from 1973 to 1984.

Curtis always seemed to have big games against the Browns in the ’70s; in his first four years he caught 33 passes for 739 yards and 11 touchdowns against Cleveland.

Curtis caught 18 percent of his career passes, totaled 20 percent of his career yards and scored 23 percent of his career touchdowns against the Browns.

The Prediction

We’re confident the Browns will get the Shurmur era off on the right foot, breaking the bizarre opening-day losing streak in the process.

We also think the Browns giving 6.5 points is a bit much, so we look for the Browns to win, but not cover.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

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Browns vs. Bengals – Week 4

The Browns reach the quarter mark of the season today at home against the Bengals. The team is looking for its first win of the season and only its second win at home against Cincinnati since 2004.

The Opposition

Cincinnati record: 2-1
Offensive rank: 15th overall/15th passing/18th rushing
Defensive rank: 9th overall/11th passing/13th rushing
All-time record: Browns trail 35-38-0, but lead the series at home with a 21-15 mark
Last meeting in Cleveland: Browns lost, 23-20 in overtime
The line: Browns (+3)

What to Watch For

Cue the broken record: for the Browns to have a chance to win they have to stop with the silly penalties – Ben Watson/Alex Mack personal fouls; Matt Roth’s ridiculous off sides – and stop making that one mistake – Jake Delhomme’s interception at the end of the first half vs. Tampa, Seneca Wallace’s TAINT vs. KC, Wallace’s pitch to no where against Baltimore – that has hurt them through the first three weeks of the season.

The Bengals rank in the middle of the league on offense and defense, but the one area that Browns should be able to exploit is the Bengals run defense. While they rank 13th overall against the rush, they are giving up 4.5 yards per rush, which puts them 23rd in the league.

If the Browns could run the ball last week against Baltimore, they should be able to run on the Bengals. If they can get a lead in the second half again this week, they should be able to control the game with their running attack, which may be even more important today as it is expected to be cold and rainy.

The Browns need to find a way to get pressure on a recently ineffective Carson Palmer. It’s reasonable to expect the secondary – especially Eric Wright – to play better after last week’s debacle in Baltimore. With a week to work on things the secondary should bounce back; if not it could be another long day against Chad Ochocinco (11 career TDs against the Browns) and Terell Owens.

As for who the Browns should/will start at quarterback, unless Jake Delhomme’s ankle is 100 percent, they should sit him out another week. I rather he be fully healthy for the final 12 games than put him back on the field early and have him miss more time – especially since he hasn’t practiced much or at all over the past few weeks.

The Best Browns vs. Cincinnati Game I’ve Ever Seen

The 1988 game, which the Browns won 23-16, to move within one game of the Bengals. Mainly because at one point the crowd was so loud that Cincinnati quarterback was crying to the refs that he couldn’t snap the ball. The Browns also blocked a punt for a touchdown (when was the last time they did that?) and the defense came up big on the goal line multiple times.

Here’s The Plain Dealer’s game story; you can see Tony Grossi’s love affair with the Bengals goes back pretty far. Here’s video of the punt block; this clip of Clarence Weathers highlights what the current crop of Browns receivers lacks: the ability to separate from the defender; and here’s another TD drive just for fun.

The Prediction

The Browns have been hanging tough through the first three weeks of the season but have done just enough to lose. They’ve showed progress – or at least consistency over the first three weeks – while the Bengals have not.

This is the week the work finally pays off and the Browns pick up their first victory of the season.

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