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Game Preview: Browns-Bengals

Posted Sep 28, 2013

The Cleveland Browns face off against their in-state rival, the Cincinnati Bengals, at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday afternoon.

The Cleveland Browns come into Sunday’s Battle of Ohio looking to keep the momentum rolling from last week’s 31-27 come-from-behind victory at the Minnesota Vikings, but standing in their way of a two-game winning streak are the Cincinnati Bengals, who overcame a 16-point deficit of their own in defeating the Green Bay Packers.

Just like all of the other Browns-Bengals games he has played in during his four-year career in Cleveland, safety T.J. Ward is expecting a physical, AFC North type of game.

“It’s going to be a good game, a divisional game,” Ward said. “It’s going to be a good challenge for us this week. Hopefully, we get to .500 and have a nice, little winning streak at home. I’m looking forward to it.”

Part of the challenge for the Browns lies in dealing with Cincinnati’s wealth of skill-position players, namely wide receiver A.J. Green. Green leads the Bengals with 249 yards and three touchdowns on 19 receptions, and came into the season having already gained 2,407 yards on 162 receptions.

“I think A.J.’s one of the bright, rising stars, for sure, in the AFC,” Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. “I think if you look two weeks down the road, in the NFC, it’s (Detroit’s) Calvin Johnson. He’s one of those elite guys. Is that top five? Top two? I don’t know, but Mr. Green doesn’t drop many balls. I know that.

“The unwritten rule is four deep shots a game, one a quarter. You know it’s going to come somewhere. You don’t know where it’s going to come. He’s one of these young, elite, Larry Fitzgerald type guys. He’s big; he’s strong. He’s not the fastest guy because he’s a bigger guy, but he catches everything around him. He’s going to get his. You’re not going to shut him out. You want to limit those four shots they take at you.”

In addition to Green, the Browns will contend with a two-headed monster at running back with veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard. Green-Ellis leads the team 129 yards on 46 carries, and Bernard has added 110 yards on 22 attempts. Both rushers have two touchdowns.

Bernard also has six catches for 84 yards with one receiving touchdown out of the backfield.

“Bernard, he’s a smaller back,” Ward said. “He’s better at slashing, making moves, a double-cut type of guy. Green-Ellis, he’s a one-cut, straight-ahead, get-what-he can power back. He’ll break a couple tackles, but they’re both good backs.”

While the Bengals run the ball efficiently, stopping the run has been the calling card of the Browns’ defense this season. After giving up a combined 119 yards to the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, the Browns limited the reigning NFL MVP, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, to 88 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries.

“We want to be a great run defense,” outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo said. “We put that challenge on ourselves. We’ve got great run-stoppers up front. We’ve got those big guys, Phil (Taylor), (Ahtyba) Rubin and Desmond (Bryant). They’re hungry. They want to make plays and help this team out. Paul (Kruger), Jabaal (Sheard) and all us guys on the outside, we take pride in being able to stop the run.”

Offensively, Cleveland native Brian Hoyer will get his second straight start at quarterback for the Browns. Hoyer completed 30 of 54 attempts for 321 yards and two touchdowns in the win at Minnesota last week.

Hoyer’s final touchdown pass against the Vikings was a seven-yarder to tight end Jordan Cameron with 51 seconds left in the game.

“Brian’s a leader,” said Horton, who was with the Arizona Cardinals with Hoyer last season. “He’s very calm under pressure. He understands defenses. He’s smart; he’s mobile. He knows where to go with the ball. We embrace him. The defense loved that he was out there throwing the ball around, and I’m sure Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon loved him last week. We love Brian. That goes back to quality depth at positions. Brian’s a very capable quarterback.

“I saw him in practice, and the first pass in practice was amazing. He threw a crossing route right over my head. It had zip, velocity, accuracy. I’m not surprised at all. It’s expected.”

According to Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the key to success in the passing game is protecting Hoyer. After Brandon Weeden endured 11 sacks in the first two games, Hoyer was sacked only three times against the Vikings.

“Each of those guys had the best games that they’ve had of the three games,” Turner said of the offensive linemen. “Joe (Thomas) was fabulous. You go against (Jared Allen) in that situation, and he got a game ball for that and he deserved it because he was outstanding. I thought each one of those guys, across the board, had their best game, and it adds up if you get to do that.”