Friday, September 14, 2012

Critical game? It is for Bengals

It isn’t often the second game of the season is considered critical. Hyperbole aside, let’s have some fun and call Sunday’s meeting between the Browns and Bengals down in Cincinnati critical.

The Bengals, who dropped the season opener in Baltimore, have playoff aspirations for the second straight season. Starting this season 0-2 is not exactly the way to make plans for games in January and beyond.

The Browns’ aspirations are to just play competitive football at this point. And starting 0-2 would hurt the ego more than thoughts of playing beyond the first 16 games of the season.

The Bengals, clearly the more talented team, need this one more. The Browns, who played well enough on defense to win last Sunday against Philadelphia, need to find a pulse in the offense.

That won’t be easy against a Bengals defense that is much better than the one that surrendered 37 of the 44 points the Ravens scored. This week, it won’t have to face Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Dennis Pitta and Torrey Smith.

That right there gives Cincinnati the edge. Based on the first game of the season, how many defenses would be frightened of what the Browns call their offense?

How frightened would they be of a receiving corps that runs incorrect routes and has trouble holding on to passes? Or an offensive line that has a problem opening holes for its runners and protecting the quarterback? Or that quarterback coming off an embarrassing National Football League debut?

No, this week’s meeting most likely is considered a breather by the Bengals after last week’s embarrassment in Baltimore. They won’t say it, although one Bengal dropped a broad hint earlier this week.

Referring to Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson, linebacker Rey Maualuga told, “He can run you over and you can miss a tackle. At the same time, from what we’ve seen, he didn’t do anything spectacular.

“From running screens, missing passes, trying to find a hole when he’s running the ball, he just didn’t do anything spectacular . . . I’m pretty sure he’s going to want to get after it once he plays us.”

Can’t argue that after Richardson’s 19-carry, 39-yard NFL debut. But the Browns’ top draft pick took the bait, anyway.

“When somebody wants to talk mess, I mean, that’s them,” he told the Plain Dealer. “I let my game speak for itself. So if they want to see how mad I am, or how upset they got me about the comment, you’ll see Sunday.”

Sounds like a story line that bears watching. If it takes some macho criticism from an opponent to motivate the rookie, so be it. Now all he needs is for fellow rookies Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz and Josh Gordon to join him in that regard.

Weeden can’t be any worse than what he showed against the Eagles. Or can he? With a running game stuck in neutral and terrible receivers, it wouldn’t be surprising if Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer gets blitz happy and attempts to force Weeden into mistakes.

Schwartz, on the other hand, had to have learned something after his sloppy NFL debut. Working on his footwork in pass protection would be a good start.  If Zimmer does unleash the blitz, the rookie right tackle can expect another long afternoon,

At least Gordon did better than the Browns’ No. 1 receiver last week. His two catches were two more than Greg Little, who was targeted four times and is still looking for his first catch of the season. He might me leaner and meaner than last season, but his stone hands haven’t changed one bit.

The Cleveland defense meanwhile will face a very angry Cincinnati offense, especially after last week’s thumping. Whether it’s too early to say quarterback Andy Dalton is experiencing a sophomore slump should be determined by late Sunday afternoon.

The red head failed to throw a touchdown pass against the Ravens, but managed to bring the Bengals to within 17-13 early in the third quarter before the Baltimore avalanche began.

Expect the Cleveland secondary, minus the suspended Joe Haden for the next four games, to become a heavy target for Dalton and receiving buddies A.J. Green, Andrew Hawkins and tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Benjarvus Green-Ellis comes out of the shadows in New England to replace Cedric Benson at running back and the Bengals, at least based on the opener, do not miss Benson, who wound up in Green Bay. Green-Ellis ran for nearly 100 yards and the lone Bengals touchdown last week.

Cincinnati has won six of the last seven meetings between these two rivals, including the last three in a row, and 12 of the last 15.

I see no evidence that supports the notion the Browns will escape Cincy with a 1-1 record. It’ll be close, though, through the first half as the defense again plays tough.But this time, the guys on that side of the ball run out of steam in the second half as the offense sputters once again, still looking for its first TD. Make it:

Bengals 23, Browns 9 

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