The legal fights are over as is the annual speculation over who will do what on the field. It's time for the teams to play some football for keeps. It doesn't get much more meaningful than the semi-annual "Battle of Ohio" between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. While the 2011 edition features Andy and Colt instead of Boomer and Bernie, the game is just as important for both teams trying to get off to a fast start in the AFC North and for fans all across Ohio searching for bragging rights.
The Browns and Bengals have a lot of similarities going into this game: a new offensive system, a young quarterback, a dominant running back, and several rookies that have to step up in key positions.
On offense, new head coach Pat Shurmur brings his version of the West Coast offense to Northeast Ohio. Leading that offense will be second year quarterback, Colt McCoy. McCoy looked quite comfortable in the preseason, amassing a 101.7 QB rating in four appearances. He plays behind an up and coming offensive line, anchored by tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack. Like the Bengals, Cleveland has a rookie guard, Jason Pinkston, making his first start. How he performs against an improved Bengals interior line will be a key for the Browns' success.
The Browns are very deep at the skill positions, having added WR Greg Little from North Carolina in the draft this year. Little gives Colt McCoy a big, speedy target to go with the steady Brian Robiskie. Cleveland has two tight ends who are outstanding pass catchers, Benjamin Watson who is questionable for Sunday, and Evan Moore, who McCoy targeted often in the preseason. Madden '12 coverboy Peyton Hillis leads a steady running attack that can move the chains and eat the clock.
On defense the key matchup will be Browns' rookie DT Phil Taylor against Bengals rookie G Clint Boling. The Browns will be concentrating on stopping Cedric Benson and making Andy Dalton win the game. Whichever rookie wins in the trenches will go a long way toward determining the winner of that battle.
Out on the edge, Impressive second year CB Joe Haden gets to welcome Bengals rookie WR AJ Green to the NFL. And over the middle, S TJ Ward renews acquaintances with WR Jordan Shipley, whom Ward put out of last year's game in Cleveland with a vicious hit in the end zone.
The wild card for the Browns is still Josh Cribbs. With the new kickoff rules, Cribbs will be challenged to do damage there, but he's just as dangerous fielding punts or lining up in a variety of positions on offense. Cribbs is the one player on either side who can change the game every time he touches the ball.
It's time again for football, and what better way to kick off with another great rivalry game between the Bengals and the Browns.
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