Much like the first time they played the Cincinnati Bengals this season, the Cleveland Browns enter the game against their in-state rivals on the heels of a victory.
Although they earned a 24-18 victory over the Baltimore Ravens two weeks ago, the Browns are “a lot different” than they were heading into the first meeting after a 31-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings back in September.
“We’re different in a lot of ways,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “As coaches, we have a better grasp of our guys and understanding of them, what we do. I think our guys have a better grasp of what we’re trying to do from a system standpoint.
“There’s some different faces. Most notably, the quarterback is different. I think that we’re playing better football. I think we’ve improved from the beginning of the season and certainly from that game, as I’m sure they have as well.”
The Bengals come into Sunday’s game on a two-game losing streak after a 20-17 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Despite Cincinnati’s loss to Baltimore, a game the Bengals tied with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to wide receiver A.J. Green at the end of regulation, the Browns are not looking beyond the first-place team in the AFC North Division.
“I don’t see a difference in our guys,” Chudzinski said. “I think that, as we’ve done all season long, they’ve been focused on the game that they’re playing. I think the guys have seen that we can play with anybody if we’re on top of our game and doing the things that we need to do and taking care of ourselves. I think that they’re excited about playing. That’s what I see in them.
“The game yesterday was a great game, the Baltimore-Cincinnati game, typical AFC North-type game: physical, hard-fought, down-to-the-wire and a real defensive battle. As I said, we’ve shifted our focus to Cincinnati. They’re an outstanding team, very talented. They’re leading the division and we’re excited to play them. It’s going to be a great challenge for us, especially being on the road.”
Chudzinski and the Browns are 4-5 overall, and 1.5 games behind the Bengals.
Back in 2007, Chudzinski’s first season as the offensive coordinator in Cleveland, the Browns lost to Cincinnati with three weeks to play in the season, and missed the playoffs despite posting a 10-6 record.
That loss has remained with Chudzinski, and is a driving force behind his emphasis on winning on the road, something the Browns have done just once this season.
“It was a game that we needed to win and were not able to win. Certainly, that was a disappointment for us and for me, and one of those games that you’ll always remember. I think every experience is a learning experience. That particular day, we did what we felt like, and what I felt like, we needed to do to win in that case. Sometimes, they work, sometimes, it doesn’t.
“It takes a great focus to win on the road. It’s a mentality, a business mentality when you go on those trips that you have to go and play a full-team game. That’s where we’re at. Offense, defense, special teams have to play well together. You certainly don’t get the added boost of the crowd and the energy that a crowd brings to you, but I think, again, it takes an extra focus to win on the road.”