Saturday, November 24, 2018

The losing stops here

In the run-up to the Browns’ game Sunday against the Bengals in Cincinnati, the team’s fans have become emboldened by the upset victory over Atlanta a couple of weeks ago.

They won in such entertaining and commanding fashion, the glimmer of hope for this franchise has turned into much more than a glimmer. It has become a spotlight that portends a bright future.

Yes, it is only a one-game winning streak they carry into this one, but its significance resonates more than the various similar streaks of the past. If thy can knock off the Falcons, who entered that game on a hot streak, then anything is possible.

The bye week allowed fans to enjoy that victory and look forward that much more to Sunday’s game. All the losing over the last nearly two decades has caused fans of the team to glom on to any shred of positivity.

But this time, it seems to be different in the wake of the twin firings of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley several weeks ago. Jackson’s ultimate landing back with the Bengals has added another interesting storyline to this one.

The ex-Cleveland coach has been brought back on board in Cincinnati in an effort to help coach Marvin Lewis and stem a tide of losing football that has seen the Bengals lose four of their last five games with a defense that has crumbled.

Normally, seeing the Browns up next on the schedule provides relief in situations such as this. But with Cleveland playing much more representative football lately, the Bengals’ seven-game win streak against their Ohio rivals is in jeopardy.

It is being speculated the Bengals have an advantage because Jackson knows all there is to know about the Browns and has fully divulged it. But even though it’s been only a few weeks, this is not the same team he left, at least on offense.

The pieces and parts are the same, but interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has added several new wrinkles that seem to have been welcomed by those on that side of the football.

The brashness of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has become infectious among the denizens of Browns Nation, as well as his teammates, as the Browns resume the season. The Atlanta victory enhances that notion.

Another incentive Sunday is ending the 25-game losing streak on the road the Browns lug into the game. One more loss ties the (2007-10) Detroit Lions for National Football League futility

The Bengals appear to have reached the nadir of their season. Only a three-point victory over Tampa Bay separates them from a five-game losing streak. And the chief culprit has been the defense, which has surrendered 182 points in those five games.

That defense allows the opposition to complete 67% of their passes, convert 58% of their third downs, and give up 450 yards and 26 first downs a game, including 154 yards on the ground. And the strength of the Cleveland attack is running the football.

Lewis has taken over that side of the ball in an effort to stanch the blood flow. His main goal probably will be to slow down rookie Browns running back Nick Chubb, who leads a Cleveland running game that hasn’t looked this good in years,

That defense would be a whole lot worse if not for the contributions of defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who have combined for 14 of the club’s 23 sacks.

The Cleveland defense should have a less difficult afternoon against a Cincinnati offense that most likely will be without the services of wide receiver A. J. Green, who is listed as doubtful and is expected to miss his third straight game with a toe injury.

That makes quarterback Andy Dalton’s task that much more difficult, which could mean more work on the ground game from Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, who have had previous success against Cleveland. Tyler Boyd and speedy John Ross become Dalton’s chief targets along with Bernard.

Once again, look for quick-developing short-to medium-range passes from Mayfield mixed with the slashing running of Chubb with more emphasis this week in wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who caught only two passes in the Atlanta victory as Mayfield liberally distributed the ball to nine receivers.

It has been more than three years – Oct. 11, 2015 in Baltimore to be exact – since the Browns exited the opposition’s home field with a victory. That was a 33-30 overtime victory over the Ravens.

The Browns’ long losing streaks are slowly being toppled. Gut in the interest of transparency, it must be noted they are just 6-11 after a bye week, 3-7 on the road, which does not bode well.

Nonetheless, Sunday will mark two more felled losing streaks. Led by the arm of Mayfield and legs of Chubb on offense and opportunism on defense (two more takeaways), the Browns end the road misery and shatter the Bengals’ winning streak against them, all in one afternoon, Hue Jackson notwithstanding.  Make it:

Browns 27, Bengals 17

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