Game 14 Preview: Cincinnati

There isn’t a lot you can say about this game. Not with any degree of substance, at least.

The opponent: When the Browns faced the Bengals five weeks ago, the 24-3 win was the result of three things:

  • A hideous performance by QB Andy Dalton (10-33 for 86 yards and 3 picks– a rating of 2.0), who does badly when the spotlight is turned on the game
  • A strong performance by Cleveland QB Brian Hoyer (15-23 for 198 yards and a 92.3 rating), for his second straight win against the Bengals.
  • An injury-riddled Bengals defense that let all three running backs score TDs.

You can spin it as a heroic effort by the Cleveland defense and running game, but since the Browns have allowed 24.5 points over the last three weeks– and haven’t run the ball well in there of the last four games (Atlanta being the exception), it’s hard to support it.

Since that game, the Bengals have gotten healthier. They still have four starters on injured reserve and half the defensive backfield is questionable for the game– a reason that Pittsburgh humiliated them a week ago. But they were in worse shape in the last game against the Browns.

Since that horrific outing, Andy Dalton has had the following results:

  • A 143.9 rating and 3-0 TD-INT ratio in a 27-10 beating of New Orleans.
  • An 84.6 rating and 1-1 ratio in the 22-13 win over Houston.
  • A 50.6 rating and 1-3 ratio in a 14-13 squeaker against Tampa Bay.
  • 128.1 rating with 2 TDs and no INTs in the 42-21 loss to Pittsburgh.

Last winter, the Bengals gave Dalton a contract with big numbers, but very little guaranteed after year 1. They have to be wondering if they can do better.

Since a lot of people will be watching this game, one would have to expect Dalton (who plays badly in high-profile games) to have a terrible day.

The Browns: The quarterback who beat them twice is on the bench– on his way out the door. In his place is a guy who had:

  • A great first drive against Buffalo, when the Bills weren’t really taking it seriously.
  • A terrible second drive, when the Bills got annoyed by the celebration and decided to get even.

Had it not been for the Magic 8-Ball of Jerome Boger, Johnny Football would have mishandled a snap, and then fumbled into the end zone for a score. But, because the NFL lets a bobblehead be a referee, the turnover isn’t there.

Your estimation of the Browns’ chances to win depends entirely on whether you think the first drive or the second was “The Real Johnny Football.”

The Browns have a good offensive line (Ryan Seymour played well at center), a lackluster set of running backs, and an erratic receiving corps The hope is that Football can find someone he gets along well with.

Jordan “Poke” Cameron, who missed games 2 and 4 with a shoulder injury and games 9-13 with a concussion, has to be panicked about his free agency status. The good news for Poke is that he has only 3 more games before he can join a West Coast team and go deep– and not block– for them.

The bad news is that he has 17 catches for 291 yards and a score, meaning he isn’t going back to the Pro Bowl, and his results aren’t likely to be a lot better than his 2012 (20-40 for 226 yards and a score).

Puff Gordon could play well today, or he could do little or nothing. It’s not clear whether he was tanking to get Brian Hoyer’s job or just tanking. The hope is that the first was true– because it means he might play better.

The hitch is that they can’t catch the ball unless Johnny Football throws it to them in a catchable way. We don’t know if he will do that. I spent 20-odd minutes staring at the exhibition game worksheets to see if I could figure out who the receiver that Johnny Football has a special relationship with.

I couldn’t see any one player. But then he was playing limited minutes, with a lot of guys who aren’t on the team now, It doesn’t mean there isn’t someone. It does mean that I don’t know who it might be at this point. I’d guess Poke, because Johnny Football seems to like to throw to tight ends… but maybe it’s Travis Benjamin for all we know.

The Outcome: Johnny Football made a couple of high-risk plays in the Buffalo game. If he can do that, the Browns will score points.

If the Bengals can shut down those angles– or pick the passes off– he’ll look like Geno Smith.

There’s reason to think Johnny Football will thrive. The Bengals have a habit of coming into a game against Cleveland with a hideous game plan– one that looks like they haven’t watched any tape. If they aren’t prepared for Johnny Football, he could gut them.

Also, Andy Dallton plays terribly in gave where he’s in the spotlight. Had Brian Hoyer started, he wouldn’t be. Now he will.

The majority are picking the Bengals to win, not because the Bengals are playing so well, but because the Bengals generally do win the games that they need to. That’s not proof that they will win this time.

I can see the Browns winning by two touchdowns if Johnny Football can either make better decisions or keep his rabbits foot turned up to 11. I can see then losing by 3-4 TDs if the Bengals have a good day and Johnny Football forces stuff.

I’m gonna guess Bengals 30-17 because it would be unusual for a rookie QB to win in his first start– and I don’t expect Johnny Football to thrive against a team that plays disciplined defense. I’m guessing at least 10 points come off mistakes.

But a guy who throws the dice on every play could hat a couple of 10’s the hard way… and I’d give the Browns a 30% chance of belting the Bengals 31-7.

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