Browns-Bengals: Five keys

Posted Sep 27, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci breaks down the five keys for Sunday’s game against Cincinnati at FirstEnergy Stadium.

>>The pass rush must continue to bring the heat. Last week, the Bengals’ offensive line had an extremely difficult time dealing with what was supposed to have been a subpar pass rush from the Packers. Green Bay’s four sacks and eight pressures of Andy Dalton went a long way toward helping to create the 16-point hole from which the Bengals had to escape for victory. The Browns have one of the better pass-rushing defenses in the NFL, although they will miss injured outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard. Barkevious Mingo can do plenty to help pick up the slack, but Sheard was off to the best start of his three-year career and was having his best game of the season before he was injured at Minnesota. The other key is for the Browns to maintain their run-stuffing prowess, which won’t be easy against speedy and elusive rookie Giovani Bernard, in order to fully turn up the heat on Dalton.

>>The offensive line has to hold its own against the Bengals’ pass rush. This is more doable than some might think. For all of the talent the Bengals have in their defensive front, they haven’t looked nearly as dominant as a year ago. The most dynamic member of the group, tackle Geno Atkins, so far has been limited to a sack and eight quarterback pressures. It will help that the Browns have guard Shawn Lauvao back from an ankle injury. His grit and toughness should work well in concert with scrappy center Alex Mack to try to contain Atkins. Right end Michael Johnson has been the Bengals’ most effective pass-rusher, and Browns left tackle Joe Thomas will need to be at the very top of his game to keep him in check. Overall, the Browns’ offensive line played better last week than it has all season, and the trend must continue if the team is going to have a chance to win.

>>Brian Hoyer needs to be far more efficient. Asking Hoyer to duplicate his heroics of a week ago, when he threw the third of his three touchdown passes in the final minute to beat the Vikings, is probably asking too much. But he definitely needs to do a much better job of taking care of the ball. Hoyer cannot afford to throw three interceptions, as he did at Minnesota. And, depending on how well he’s protected, there is reason to believe he could end up having success against a banged-up Bengals secondary. Hoyer should continue to help himself, as well as his offensive line and receivers, by making quick decisions with where to go with his throws and moving the offense at a brisk pace.

>>Joe Haden keeps A.J. Green under control, and the Browns hold up in other coverage challenges. Haden is off to the best start of his four NFL seasons. He has consistently shut down the opponents’ top receivers. Haden faces his greatest challenge to date in covering Green, who has played well against the Browns during his brief time in the NFL. But it might be even more important that the Browns minimize the plays they allow from running back Giovani Bernard as a receiver, matching up against linebackers, and from tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert matching up against linebackers and safeties.

>>Establish some semblance of a running game. The Browns’ offense is all about setting up the run with the pass, and they just might be able to do that given the Bengals’ injury-depleted secondary. But the running game must show some signs of life to at least help in the selling of play-action throws. The Browns aren’t concerned with establishing any true offensive balance, but they need to avoid the overwhelming imbalance they’ve had so far. Willis McGahee is determined to be a much larger factor against the Bengals, although there is only so much that can be expected from his 31-year-old legs.

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