After consecutive divisional losses, the Cincinnati Bengals are in a must win position today as they take on the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium. A win keeps the Bengals both in the hunt in the AFC North and in the driver's seat for a wildcard spot. A loss would all but end any hopes for a division title and return Cincinnati to the rest of the AFC pack with a difficult schedule the rest of the way.
In order for Cincinnati to gain the season sweep of their upstate rivals, they'll need to get back to the formula that got them off to a 6-2 start. Specifically, they need to do the following:
1. Win the turnover battle. Rookie QB Andy Dalton threw seven interceptions in his first 10 games. He's thrown five in the past two against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Cleveland boasts the number one passing defense in the NFL. While that statistic is a bit deceiving as teams have been forgoing the pass to feast on the Browns' porous run defense, they still have some weapons, namely cornerback Joe Haden and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson that can make big plays. The Browns will be once again playing without their big play safety, TJ Ward, so that helps the Bengals passing attack, as will the return of AJ Green. The weather looks to be cold and wet, however, so ball security will be at a premium.
2. Reprise the shutdown of the running game. In the first matchup, Cincinnati held Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis in check. Depending on who you believe, Hillis or the Browns injury report, he may or may not play today. Regardless, Cincinnati's defense must make the Browns one-dimensional and force Colt McCoy to beat them. On a related note, the Bengals defense must do a better job on the Cleveland tight ends than they did in week one. With McCoy's wide outs struggling, the Cincinnati linebackers and safeties have to keep Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore under wraps.
3. Get a defensive or special teams score. Cincinnati had a run of three straight games with a non-offensive score. If one of these units could put some points on the board, it could break the game open.
4. Play a "clean" game. The Bengals have been well above their season average in penalty yardage the past two games. In week one against Cleveland they committed only three infractions for 22 yards while Cleveland racked up 11 flags for 72 yards. Bengal penalties have stifled drives and killed momentum at key moments, especially last week in Baltimore. Playing "clean" is always one of Marvin Lewis' keys to victory. They need to regain their focus in that department.
It's going to be cold and rainy with a heavy emphasis on running the ball between the tackles today at PBS. In other words, a classic AFC North matchup. Cincinnati gets back to their winning ways today. Bengals 24, Browns 13.
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