The Cincinnati Bengals can improve to 3-4 in a suddenly wide open AFC North by beating the Cleveland Browns in Week 7.
Cincy’s Ohio rivals will arrive at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday still looking for a first win. The Browns have the talent on both sides of the ball to make life difficult for the Bengals.
Then again, Cincinnati boasts the offensive weapons to put the Browns D’ to the sword. Quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, one of the NFL‘s best, can take the lid off any coverage. But the Bengals must get more from their intermediate targets.
In particular, Dalton must make greater use of a clutch of young pass-catchers. Rookie wideout Tyler Boyd is chief among them as a sure-handed possession target. There’s also tight end C.J. Uzomah.
The latter will still be filling in for Tyler Eifet, Dalton’s best clutch playmaker over the middle. Uzomah will need to work the hook and curl routes against Cleveland’s plodding linebackers.
Of course, Dalton may not be able to resist looking Green’s way often if Browns’ star cornerback Joe Haden misses out. Cleveland’s best cover man would be the obvious choice to matchup with Green wherever he goes, but Haden has missed practice with a groin problem.
Still, Browns head coach Hue Jackson is optimistic Haden will play, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.
As for their own plan on offense, the Browns would be wise to keep the ball on the ground and leave Dalton waiting on the sideline. A run-heavy attack is possible provided Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson get back on track.
The former managed just 16 yards on nine carries against the Tennessee Titans in Week 6, a pitiful 1.8 average.
Yet Michael Fabiano of the league’s official site believes Crowell has a more favorable matchup this week:
"Crowell, listed as a sit ’em the last two weeks, has struggled to produce after a hot start. Still, I’d get him back into your starting lineups based on a matchup against the Bengals. In their first six games, Cincinnati has allowed five different running backs to score 13 or more points including four with more than 15 points."
The Bengals have struggled against the run, but they will at least have Vontaze Burfict available to plug the middle. He escaped suspension after only receiving a fine for a perceived stomp on New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount last week, per Zac Jackson and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
However, Burfict was limited in practice with an ankle issue, according to Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Burfict’s presence will be key because the Cincy front seven needs to win the battles along the line of scrimmage. If the Browns establish the run they’ll own the clock and force Dalton and Co. into a one-dimensional game.
Date: Sunday, October 23
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Venue: Paul Brown Stadium
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Both teams need a win, but the Bengals will know they can get right back in the thick of the division race alongside the slumping Baltimore Ravens and the wounded Pittsburgh Steelers.
The extra motivation should translate to a hard-fought but valuable Cincy win.