The Browns know exactly what will be at stake Sunday when they face the Cincinnati Bengals in front of a sellout crowd at Paul Brown Stadium.
“Just a chance to sweep Cincinnati and just let them know it’s a new face in the AFC North,” Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor said. “Like coach [Rob Chudzinski] is saying, we’re not the little brother anymore.”
The Browns (4-5) know they can narrow the lead of the Bengals (6-4) in the division standings to a half game and threaten to make a legitimate playoff push with a victory. They know the strong play of quarterback Jason Campbell and the defense in the past six quarters proves they’re capable of seizing the opportunity.
“Everybody’s talking about Cleveland this, the mistake on the lake, all this other stuff, man,” Taylor said. “It’s time for a change. We’re tired of losing around here. We’ve got the talent in here to go all the way to the top. We’ve just got to get it done.”
But no one knows which version of the Bengals the Browns will encounter in their most meaningful November game since 2007, when they went 10-6 and fell short of a postseason berth.
Will they visit the Bengals that rebounded from their 17-6 loss Sept. 29 in Cleveland with four consecutive wins spearheaded by quarterback Andy Dalton, the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Month for October? Or will they meet the Bengals that have suffered losses to the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens in their past two games with Dalton committing seven turnovers?
Joe Reedy covers the Bengals for the Cincinnati Enquirer. In the following question-and-answer session, he provided insight about what the Browns can expect from the Bengals during their upcoming clash:
Q: What is the attitude and morale of the Bengals after consecutive overtime losses on the road? Do you sense this season is slipping away from them or do you expect them to rebound Sunday before going on their bye?
A: “The attitude is still upbeat. They are up by 1½ games in the division and still in control of their own destiny. For the most part, this has been a resilient team. They have faced three double-digit, third-quarter deficits this season and have come back to tie or win. They should rebound at home where they are 4-0 for the first time since 1988, plus the Browns haven’t won in Cincy since 2008.”
Q: What will be the most important keys for the Bengals as they attempt to get back on track against the Browns?
A: “No turnovers. In the four losses, the Bengals have 12 and all but one has been by Dalton. In the first game against Cleveland, he had two turnovers at inopportune times. The defense held the Ravens to 189 yards, but a team-record 134 yards in penalties gave the Ravens a short field on both of their touchdown drives.”
Q: Dalton was on fire during the Bengals’ four-game winning streak but has struggled mightily since. What’s wrong with him?
A: “Some bad decisions on out routes in the Miami game, and he didn’t do a good job of playing the wind in the Baltimore game, which will bring up renewed doubts about his arm strength. What made the passing game so lethal during the four-game winning streak is that everyone was making plays. Marvin Jones hasn’t had a touchdown the past two games (a 50-yarder got called back at Miami) and Mohamed Sanu continues to struggle. Pass protection has also been an issue with 10 sacks allowed the past two weeks. Dalton early in the season was doing a very good job of getting rid of the ball, but has taken too many sacks since then.”
Q: Which key injuries have the Bengals been able to compensate for effectively and which ones have really hindered them since they faced the Browns in Week 4?
A: “Vinny Rey has played well in the two games since middle linebacker Rey Maualuga has had a knee injury. At defensive tackle, Brandon Thompson got the start against Baltimore, but James Harrison, Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt have also played inside on nickel packages. The loss of cornerback Leon Hall still might be the one that hinders them the most. The Bengals still have a pass rush with defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap even though All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins is lost for the year, but cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones have had some periods where they have struggled in the secondary.”
Q: The Browns believe they’re better now than they were when they defeated the Bengals in September. Are the Bengals better or worse and why?
A: “The Bengals are 4-2 since the first meeting and have control of the division. The offense is ranked eighth and the defense fourth. Despite the past two weeks, the offense is more balanced, and they have a variety of weapons in the passing game. The key is all of them being in sync.”
The Browns re-signed linebacker Justin Staples to their practice squad, the team announced Tuesday. … The Browns worked out free-agent running backs Kahlil Bell, Armond Smith and Armando Allen on Monday, but none was immediately signed to a contract, NationalFootballPost.com reported.
Follow Joe Reedy on Twitter: @joereedy. Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.