Browns’ Preview: Game 7 (@ Cincinnati)

Opponent Preview

The Bengals are 2-4. That record is misleading, in two respects:

  • Their two wins are against Miami (who is terrible) and the Jets– who look a lot weaker than they did a year ago.
  • Their four losses came against New England (with Tom Brady), Dallas, Denver and Pittsburgh, who are a combined 14-6 in their other games

It would not be a surprise– they play Cleveland this week and Washington next– to see the Bengals go into the bye week at .500, and make a late-season run to make the playoffs.


To repeat what I say every year, I think Marvin Lewis is a good coach– maybe a very good one. But he always requires a lot of effort to support him. The Bengals are 2-4, averaging 18.2 points a game (29th in the NFL) and allowing 24.2 (20th). How do you defend a guy like that?

Well, let’s revisit the points I made last year:

  • Paul Brown died just before the 1991 season; the Bengals had gone 43-36 (.544; a 9-7 record) over the past five years, with three winning seasons, two playoff appearances and a Super Bowl loss.
  • For the next 12 seasons, Brown’s idiot son Mike ran the team. The Benga;s went 55-137 (.286, a .5-11 average), with the high-water mark being a single 8-8 year.
  • Lewis is 114-98-2, a .537 mark. That averages out to an 8-7-1 mark.

In 2003, Lewis joined a team that had gone 2-14 under Dick LeBeau; 4-12 and 6-10 the years before that. In Lewisn’s first season, they went 8-8. In year three, they went 11-5 and mad the playoffs.

Lewis didn’t have a losing season until 2007. He’s had only three losing years in a 13-year career. He’s had six 10-win seasons (including the last four), and been to the playoffs seven times.

Yes, I know he’s 0-7 in the playoffs. If you are a Bengals’ fan whose goal is to win a Super Bowl, then Marvin Lewis pretty clearly won’t get you there.

But if he leaves, you go back to Mike Brown running the team, and you probably never see the playoffs again. Or even 8-8.

Brown inherited his father’s prickly personality and refusal to spend money– but didn’t get the part of his dad that could scout. Cleveland fans moan about the veterans who have been let go. Mike Brown makes the Marx Brothers look like pikers. In the off-season, the Bengals sent the following players away (in alphabetical order):

  • Slot Corner Leon Hall: 16 games, 4 starts, 2 interceptions (one for a TD) and 8 passes knocked down
  • LB A.J. Hawk: 16 games, 11 starts– not much production, but a former Super Bowl champ
  • WR Marvin Jones: Only 6 games due to injury, but 29 catches for 529 yards (18.2 a catch) and 4 TDs.
  • FS Reggin Nelson: He started 16 games, led the NFL with 8 interceptions and knocked down 14 balls.
  • WR Mohamed Sanu: 16 games, 4 starts, 33 catches for 394 yards
  • RT Andre Smith: 14 games, 14 starts. Other than durability (12 games missed over the past 5 years) as good a player as you might want (right tackles don’t go to the Pro Bowl).

If you count Jones and Sanu as the same player (as you should), that’s five starters. Half their secondary is new; they’re breaking in two new receivers.

One example of how Brown rolls. He decided that Sanu (whose rookie contract was up) was dispensable– that Jones was the one he should keep. OK, that makes sense.

  • Both players were drafted in 2012, so they’re the same age and each have four seasons of data to present.
  • In 2015, Jones had 65 catches for 812 yards and 4 TDs.
  • In 2013 (he missed all of 2014 with injuries), Jones had 51 for 712 yards– but 10 scores.
  • Sanu’s best year (2014) was 56 catches, 790 yards and 5 TDs.  at receiver Both wide

So Brown tells Sanu to take a hike– he gos to Atlanta, where he has 21 catches for 242 yards and two scores. But then he decides Jones wants too much money– and he heads off to Detroit (29 catches, 529 yards, 4 TDs).

Lewis is stuck figuring out who gets to play next to A.J. Green. The answer, so far, is Patriots castoff Brandon Lafell. You can probably guess that picking up Bill Belicheat’s leavings is a bad idea; Lafell’s stats (23 catches for 289 yards and 2 TDs) would confirm that. Cincinnati’s #2 pick, Tyler Boyd is making progress, but we’re talking 19 catches for 242 yards and no scores.

Naturally that is affecting Green, who is seeing 2-3 guys on every play. It’s kind of amazing that he is anywhere close (42 catches, 602 yards, two scores) to his 2015 stats (86-1,297-10).

The Bengals were hoping Tyler Eifert (52 catches for 615 yards– but 13 TDs) would take a big step up. Instead, he’s been hurt and missed all six games. (He might play today; he’s listed as questionable.) 23-year-old C.J. Uzonah is playing pretty well for a fifth round pick from 2015. But 17 catches for 193 yards and no scores isn’t exactly filling the gap.

With the passing game out of commission, teams are stacking the line. That means Jeremy Hill (271 yards, 3 TDs and 3.6 per carry) and Giovanni Bernard (167 yards, 3.4 per carry) are struggling. Also, as the Browns know, losing your starting right tackle hurts.

The good news on the line is that the Bengals drafted tackles in rounds one and two in 2015. Cedric Obuehi (their #1 pick) is playing fairly well (again, for a rookie) as Smith’s replacement.. The bad news is that Brown couldn’t get LG Clint Bolling (whose contract is up at the end of the year) an extension at the end of the year, so the Bengals already know he’s leaving.

Plus, Lewis lost offensive coordinator Jay Gruden after the 2013 season (he’s the head coach in Washington)– and his replacement jumped ship for the Browns after the 2015 season. Ken Zampese (yes, he’s the son of the legendary coordinator Ernie Zampese) is struggling. It’s kind of amazing that QB Andy Dalton is so close to his 2015 numbers, with all the craziness.

The defense is the same deal. They had 21 interceptions a year ago, send the players who made 10 of them away and now have four– on pace for 11. The best piece of news is that Will Clarke (their #3 pick in 2014) has three sacks and looks like he might be a compliment to Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. The second-best piece of news is that both Atkins and Dunlap are both signed through 2018– meaning that Clarke won’t have to replace one of them for a few years.

It’s such a circus that I often wonder why Lewis does it. Like Billy Beane in Oakland, there are teams who would hire him and eliminate some of his problems– rather than create them for him, as Brown does. For some reason, both guys seem to prefer to reign in hell.

The good news is that Brown will probably never fire Lewis (who is 58), because he knows the team would immediately return to the crapper. The bad news is that they’ll never get farther than the AFC Championship– and seasons like this are always a threat. The Bengals are an injury away from 6-10.

Browns Preview

With the team at 0-6, and the source of the next win being hard to find– the wagons are beginning to circle on Lou Groza Boulevard.

One of the signs that things aren’t going as planned is the increase is what I call “Silly Rabbit” stories. They’re the condescending stories that get printed in the media, telling the people who are concerned about some aspect of the team that they’re being ridiculous.

Terry Pluto posted one about the line the other day. “Silly rabbit– you thought the Browns should be playing Shon Coleman at tackle just because they drafted him with the 76th pick? He had surgery on his medial collateral ligament after the 2015 season– he hasn’t been healthy. The Browns knew this when they took him.”

Shon Coleman will turn 25 on November 25th. He’s old for a rookie because he had leukemia and missed the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He’s missed 33% of the season (he had a few snaps as a blocking tight end last week).

The Browns didn’t put him on one of the many injured lists. They kept him on the active roster for five weeks– using a spot that could have been given to an extra corner, a return man– basically anyone who plays any position. That’s stupid.

Somewhere back, I mentioned that a friend who works in player personnel for a really good team thinks Coleman was a big mistake for Cleveland. He believes that Coleman will need 2-3 years to develop (to compensate for the time he missed at Aubuirn)– that the Browns probably won’t see any value from him until 2018– maybe even 2019.

“You might have to re-sign him,” he said, “In order to get any significant production.” And he made that comment in May.

Silly Rabbit– Trix are for kids, and the five receivers they drafted aren’t supposed to be playing:

  • #1 pick Corey Coleman (100 snaps) only has a broken hand,– and before that a hamstring and a hernia. There’s no reason that should keep happening.
  • #4 pick Ricardo Lewis (189 snaps; 13 catches on 23 targets for 146 yards) isn’t drop-prone, He’s just having growing pains
  • The #4 pick used to take undrafted free agent Seth Devalve (11 snaps) isn’t wasted– he’s hurt.
  • #5 pick Jordan Payton (7 snaps, one target no catches) is just trapped behind all the great receivers.
  • #5 pick Rashard Higgins (47 snaps; 1-4 for 14 yards) is about to break out.

Part of the reason these guys aren’t playing is that Terrelle Pryor (374 snaps; 93.9% of the total) and Andrew Hawkins (291, 73.1%) are. Hawkins is 30 and has one more year on his deal. Pryor can be a free agent at the end of the season.

“Silly Rabbit– of course Pryor will re-sign with the Browns.” In fact, Pryor almost certainly won’t sign. His agent is Drew Rosenhaus– one of the most mercenary of the bunch. Rosenhause doesn’t care about putting his clients in a good situation– he just looks for the highest contrract. He’s very good at getting it– but his players tend to be stuck on bad teams.

Rosenhause has probably told the Browns something close to the following: “The salary for a “franchise player” at receiver is $14,599,000. We’ll accept a 5-year deal for $60 million– that’s 20% less than his market value– with 40% guaranteed. If you don’t want to do that, we’ll see what he can earn on the open market.”

Meanwhile, Rosenhaus is most likely telling his client “You have 10 games left before you can cash in. Don’t blow it by getting hurt. Don’t block too hard, don’t dive for balls, don’t go across the middle and jump for passes. And for God’s sake, stop playing quarterback.”

It’s in Pryor’s best interests to concentrate on his payday. The Browns certainly won’t sign him if he gets hurt.

“Silly Rabbit– the defense is coming around.” It hasn’t allowed less than 25 points. Opposing quarterbacks have a 104.0 rating, with 16 TDs and only 6 interceptions. They’ve collected only 9 sacks on 213 attempts, which is why opponents are getting 8.3 yards per pass. Opposing quarterbacks can stand back and wait until the receivers get open.

“Silly Rabbit– our running game is one of the best in the league.” Cleveland did have 100+ yards in the first four games, but those came against:

  1. Philadelphia (allowing 4.8 yards per rush; 30th in the NFL)
  2. Baltimore (3.4 yards; fifth)
  3. Miami (4.5, 25th)
  4. Washington (5.0– dead last)

Other than the Ravens (where 85 of the 145 yards came on one play), not a good run defense in the bunch). Against New England (now seventh, with 3.7 yards), they had 27 yards. Against Tennessee (18th; 4.0), they had 40.

The apologists can claim this is all goiing according to plan. But other than the surprisingly good play from Pryor and Cody “Trust Me” Kessler, nothing positive has happened.

Game Preview

The Bengals’ best path to victory on offense is to throw deep on Cleveland’s secondary and try to overwhelm the linebackers with throws to the backs. Dalton should have no trouble doing that. He’s been sacked 19 times, but 7 of those sacks came against the Jets, 4 against Denver and 4 against Dallas.The Browns don’t have anyone who could start on those lines.

With Joe Haden listed as “Doubtful” (75% chance he will not play), the hopes of keeping Green contained are nil. Haden almost always plays Green well– but if he can’t play, Green should run wild.

Defensively, Cincinnati has been lit up pretty good. But they’re not facing Ben Roethlisberger, Zak Prescott or Tom Brady. The weather today in Cincinnati is supposed to be 71, with 10-15 MPH winds. Those will be by far the worst conditions Kessler has faced. I don’t think he has the arm to overcome even this small an obstacle.

The Browns will have to run the ball to win. But with Joel Bitonio gone for the year, they’ll need to do it with Alvin Bailey, Cam Erving and Austin Pasztor. That combination got Kessler sacked 6 times last week. The Bengals might hit doube-digits– the thought of Atkins against Erving is terrifying.

Jackson does know the opponent, but that’s about all the advantages. I don’t see any hope.

Game Prediction

In their last five games against the Browns, the Bengals are 4-1. None of the five games have been close (Cleveland;s one win– in 2014– was a 24-3 beating). The odds of this game being close are low.

Cincinnati has scored 142 points– an average of 28.4. They’ve allowed 57 points (11.4). That seems like a reasonable bet: Bengals 28, Browns 10.

 

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