CLEVELAND – The 7-6 Cleveland Browns and the 8-4-1 Cincinnati Bengals will square off this Sunday for the second time this season. In their previous meeting, the Browns won in convincing fashion by the score of 24-3. The Browns controlled the game with a dominant rushing attack; and their defense stopped the Bengals from gaining any momentum on the evening. While the Browns will be looking for a similar result, the Bengals have their sights set on a considerably different outcome.
With that said, the Browns have a slight advantage as they’re inserting a player into the starting lineup that has very little NFL film in rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. Earlier in the week Bengals’ head coach Marvin Lewis was asked about the prospect of Manziel starting for the Browns. Obviously peeved by the notion of having to answer questions regarding a rookie quarterback, Lewis said, “…You’ve got to defend the offense, you don’t defend the player.” Lewis’ frustration is plausible, however Lewis’ statement is rather duplicitous in the sense that the Browns’ offense is not the same when Manziel is at the helm.
The only thing the Bengals can do is conceptualize how the Browns’ offense might attack, as there is a limited sample size of NFL film on Manziel. As a result, the Browns have shown few tendencies with Manziel as their quarterback; and the Bengals will have to make in-game adjustments.
Below are elements that could help the Browns pull out a victory against the Bengals:
Easy Throws Early in the Game
Manziel will obviously be excited for the first start in his NFL career, and Browns’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will want to give him some easy throws to get him in a rhythm early in the game. Shanahan shared his thoughts on Manziel’s temperament earlier in the week.
“He naturally gets pretty amped up. You try to calm him down. You want him to relax, but he’s going to be who he is. I’m not going to sit there and tell him how to be. I want him to be himself. It’s got him a lot of success in the past, and I definitely don’t want to be the one who tries to take that away from him.”
Shanahan won’t be attempting to take away from Manziel’s raw emotion, but it will be paramount to build his confidence by scripting screens and quick outs early on.
Shanahan will attempt to get Manziel out on the perimeter by sending him on bootlegs and waggles. Because of his mobility, the defense will flow in his direction. The Browns could sneak a tight end across the formation and generate an explosive play if Manziel attracts too many defenders.
Chasing a mobile quarterback around can be taxing, especially if the defense is unable to get off of the field on third down. The Browns could get mismatches off of sheer fatigue if they can execute while increasing their tempo particularly in the red zone. With the Bengals missing their leader on defense in linebacker Vontaze Burfict, increasing the tempo will test the Bengals communication.
Don’t Give Wide Receivers a Free Release
The Browns’ defensive backs have done a marvelous job getting their hands on opposing wide receivers for the majority of the season and I don’t expect it to stop now. A.J. Green is one of the games’ best wide receivers, but Joe Haden has been his Kryptonite in their most recent matchups. Just as the Browns did in the previous matchup against the Bengals, look for Browns’ defensive backs to get their hands on Green early and often in an effort to throw off their timing in the passing game. Browns’ defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil spoke about pressing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage during his Thursday press conference.
“We’re a press-manteam. We’re a press-zone team. That’s why corners are so important in our defensive system. …”
The Bengals will most certainly take a page from the Colts’ book in terms of stacking receivers to keep them clean off the line of scrimmage, but with Buster Skrine becoming a legitimate No.2 corner in the NFL, and the improved play of Justin Gilbert, the Browns should be ready to handle whatever the Bengals might throw at them.
Linebackers Must Fill Gaps
The Browns are fully aware of the talent that Jeremy Hill possesses but O’Neil hasn’t forgotten how badly Giovani Bernard hurt the Buffalo Bills when he was on their staff last year. If the Browns hope to come away with the victory this week, they must mitigate the effectiveness of the Bengal’s two-headed rushing attack. O’Neil also spoke about the Bengals’ rushing attack during Thursday’s presser.
“Jeremy has done a nice job. He’s a good running back. It’s a good one-two punch. There’s not doubt about it. Whoever is number one and whoever is number two, it’s damn good.”
According to O’Neil Ahtyba Rubin is probably the healthiest he’s been all season. Rubin’s improved health will go a long way toward tying up blockers, and allowing the Browns’ linebackers to flow freely to the football.
The Browns matchup exceptionally well against the Bengals and will likely come away with a victory against their in-state rival. The absence of their leader Vontaze Burfict and numerous injuries in the secondary will prove to be insurmountable for the Bengals. Expect the Browns to improve their record to 8-6 at the culmination of Sunday’s game.
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