The Cincinnati Bengals are one of the more complete teams in not only the AFC, but the entire NFL.
Yes, the Bengals.
I’ll let that sink in.
After years of being relegated to punch lines and punching bags to even the likes of the Browns, the Bengals have proved in their first three games that they are a damn good team.
After losing their opener to the Chicago Bears (24-21 on Sept. 8), the Bengals defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers (20-10 on Sept. 16) and the Green Bay Packers (34-30 on Sept. 22).
At 2-1 and tied with the Baltimore Ravens for first in the AFC North, Cincinnati is looking for its third consecutive playoff appearance and considered the team to beat in the division.
Yes, the Bengals.
So what makes them so good?
Their offense is led by one of the top wide receivers in the league. Browns fans saw first hand last Sunday what a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver can do for your offense.
In three games, A.J. Green has 19 catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns.
Joe Haden will have his hands full.
This matchup only occurred once last season, as Haden was suspended for the Browns-Bengals first game in early September. In the rematch Oct. 14, 2012 in Cleveland, Green caught seven balls for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
Who has the advantage Sunday? That’s a tough call. It will be fun to watch two of the best at their position battle all game long.
The key is who will be the target opposite of Green. Cincinnati creates matchup problems for numerous reasons. One, the talent of Green. Two, the Bengals now employ two tight ends with the addition of last April’s first-round pick Tyler Eifert joining the 2010 first-round pick Jermaine Gresham. Finally, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones will be the two wide outs opposite Green that will be the responsibility of Buster Skrine and Chris Owens.
Although Skrine and Owens played better last week in Minnesota, the Vikings’ wide receiving talent isn’t nearly as good as the Bengals and Skrine and Owens are still the soft spot in the Browns’ defense.
What we did find out after the first three games is the Browns defense can stop the run. Adrian Peterson had only 88 yards rushing last Sunday, which forced the Vikings to beat the Browns with quarterback Christian Ponder. As a result, the Browns own.
This week, the game plan won’t be as simple. The run and pass defense must be on point to slow down the Bengals.
Offensively, the Browns shook off their poor performance against the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens and responded with a better output against the Vikings.
Brian Hoyer gets his second start and first at home. In short, Hoyer played well last week. Two of his three interceptions were clearly his fault. One of those picks should be credited to right guard Oniel Cousins, who allowed a Vikings defender back to push him back into Hoyer, tip the pass up into the air into the arms of another Vikings defender.
Cousins and his fellow offensive linemen will have their hands full against a strong front seven of the Bengals, led by its defensive line of Carlos Dunlap (LDE), Domata Peko (NT), Geno Atkins (DT) and Michael Johnson (RDE).
It doesn’t get any easier at the linebacker level with James Harrison (SLB), Vontaze Burfict (WLB) and Rey Maualuga (MLB).
Good luck creating holes and pass blocking, Browns maligned offensive line. You’re going to need it.
Do the Browns have no hope against a good Cincinnati team?
Of course not. The Browns need to run the ball, Hoyer needs to limit his interceptions and the defense needs to continue to play at its high level.
This team surprised us last week winning after what it seemed all hope was lost. Why not keep the hope alive, Brownies?