October 21, 2014

Five Keys To Victory: Week Two

Well the Bengals literally limp into week two, battered and bruised by the Ravens and down yet another key player (LB Thomas Howard).  On the bright side, they will play at home in front of a sellout crowd cheering them on. That’s way better than playing on national TV on the road in Baltimore.

Better still:  They face the Cleveland Browns, in the midst of another rebuilding year.

Cleveland looked absolutely putrid in week one, with rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden accounting for four interceptions, 2 fumbles and a staggering 5.1 passer rating. The other rookie, RB Trent Richardson–the much-hyped “once in a decade” talent from Alabama–managed just 39 yards on 19 carries.  The only reason they had a chance to win last week was thanks to 4 picks and several boneheaded plays by Mike Vick. 

There should be no better elixir to repair Mike Zimmer’s ego and the Bengals defense.

But as Neil Armstrong once said, “When you get overconfident, that’s when something snaps up and bites you.” 

This is something we Bengals fans know all too well.  Make no mistake:  The Browns can beat the Bengals.  It’s the NFL, everyone is a professional, and they have some very respectable parts and pieces on their football team.  They took Philadelphia to the wire and might have won the game if not for Weeden’s horrendous play.  Their defense is playing well, rushing the passer and swarming to the football with abandon.

So for our sanity, here are this week’s five keys to a Bengals victory, and a much happier next week:

  1. Contain Richardson:  The Browns will want to rely heavily on their prized rookie now more than ever.  They will no doubt surmise from last week that Weeden needs a running game he can lean on, and judging by Cincinnati’s difficulty stopping Ray Rice, Pat Shurmur will certainly test the teeth of the defense early and often.  Rey Maualuga’s big mouth and Thomas Howard’s injury will only make this a more attractive option.  Weeden will look much better on 2nd-and-4 than he will on 3rd-and-8.  To keep that from happening, it will be vital to play fundamentally solid football up front, fill the proper gaps, and tackle soundly.  With Howard down, Vontaze Burfict looks to get some snaps and this may be the Wally Pip moment we’ve hoped for. 
  2. Contain Cribbs:  One sure-fire way to give Cleveland an upset win is to allow Joshua Cribbs to score on a kick return, or give the Browns offense good field position.  Mike Nugent’s kick-offs were generally returnable on Monday Night, so deeper kicks would be welcomed.  The best way to keep Cribbs from breaking one is to have the ball sail out of the end zone.  Punt coverage will be equally stressed this week by Special Teams coach Darrin Simmons.  Despite their defensive failings Monday Night, the Bengals have to feel good about their chances of stopping the Browns offense when they have 80 yards to go.  Give them a short field, and who knows what could happen?
  3. Pressure Weeden:  Assuming the Bengals can accomplish steps one and two, the Browns will be seeing a lot of 3rd-and-long situations and will have no choice but to pass.  Zimmer’s charges should aggressively work to confuse and pressure the young Weeden into sacks and poor decisions.  This pressure leads to turnovers and turnovers can turn a close game into a blowout, right, Andy?  DE Carlos Dunlap might be back this week, and if so, he should instantly give the pass rush a boost.
  4. Call the Law:  BenJarvus Green –Ellis had an excellent game against Baltimore, with 91 yards on the ground.  The Browns are stout up front, but nowhere close to the Ravens, and Cincinnati’s backs always seem to shred Cleveland’s defense.  From Rudi Johnson, to Kenny Watson, to Cedric Benson, there’s a tradition here that should continue.  BJGE can expect to have similar success.  Getting the Law Firm involved early will serve to elongate drives, keep the Bengals out of dangerous situations, and tire Cleveland’s front seven.  Add to that his impeccable fumble record, (ZERO) and the Bengals could dominate this game with methodical, time-consuming drives.  I personally doubt Bernard Scott will suit up, but the other Bengal backs, Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman could likewise get some opportunities if BJGE needs a breather.
  5. Exploit Haden’s absence:  Cleveland’s best CB, Joe Haden, is out serving a four game suspension.  Their other top corners aren’t exactly world beaters and are nursing minor ailments themselves.  Haden failed to cover A.J. Green last year, so his inferior replacements should be a match-up Green can really take advantage of.  Of course, Green will see constant double teams, bubble coverages, and similar attempts to keep him at bay, but Andrew Hawkins, Jermaine Gresham, and the other receivers should be able to compensate.

Perfect Scenario:  The Bengals get ahead early and control the clock with the running game, forcing the Browns to abandon their own running game quickly.  Then Zimmer can unleash some exotic blitz packages and disguised coverages to confuse and befuddle the rookie into errors.  Vontaze Burfict makes some plays and solidifies his bid to start.  AJ Green and Andy Dalton get some confidence building hook-ups, and Richardson stays bottled up. The Bengals maintain a 2 to 3 score lead in the fourth quarter, and coast to an ego-restoring victory.

Will Burfict answer our prayers for a defensive playmaker this week?

Worst Case Scenario:  Turnovers continue to plague the offense, the defense continues to prove they can’t stop the run, the first round corners continue to look like women’s college free agents,  and Cleveland is gifted with several second and third chances through turnovers, kick returns and penalties—enough to win the game at the end with a late field goal or by taking advantage of a momentary defensive brain fart.

Prediction:  I don’t see the perfect scenario unfolding (in fact worst case looks more likely), but I do believe this team will bounce back and handle the Browns.  The Bengals should play better defense, (it can’t get much worse) and the offense should have a much easier time this week.  They are at home and shouldn’t look quite so shell-shocked and out of sorts.  Cleveland won’t have a lot of no-huddle in their game plan, and the Bengals might have Carlos Dunlap back. That said, Cleveland will make a game of it.  They just won’t have the firepower to get the win.

Final Score:  Cincinnati 23, Cleveland 13